By BARRY GOODRICH
Freddie Kitchens knows football. The 44-year-old Gadsden, Alabama native has been in and around the game his entire life – a career path that has led him to the head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns.
When Kitchens was named as the Browns offensive coordinator last October following the dismissal of former head coach Hue Jackson, the team came to life. Thanks to the exploits of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, a long-beleaguered Cleveland team made a run at the playoffs.
The front office showed its faith in Kitchens by naming him to the head coaching spot in January. With hopes running high as the team begins its first training camp under a new leader, Kitchens is taking a no-nonsense approach to his role as an NFL head coach.
“I want to be the most physical team on the field,” said Kitchens during the team’s minicamp in June. “I want to play great defense. I want to move the ball. I want to be great on special teams. That kind of sums it up.”
As a senior quarterback at Attalla High School, Kitchens was named Alabama’s Mr. Football, drawing the interest of the University of Alabama. He was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, throwing for 4,668 yards and 30 touchdown passes during his career.
Kitchens has an impressive coaching lineage, serving on the staffs of two of the game’s most legendary head coaches – Nick Saban at LSU (2000) and Bill Parcells of the Dallas Cowboys (2006). He also had stints at North Texas, Mississippi State and the Arizona Cardinals. While with the Cardinals as quarterbacks coach, Kitchens helped Carson Palmer set single season team records in passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating.
And now Kitchens is working with another talented quarterback. All eyes will be on both Kitchens and Mayfield when the season gets underway in September.
“I think you are getting the same Baker,” said Kitchens during minicamp. “I want him to be the same guy every day. There are a lot of misnomers out there about Baker. He works his tail off in everything that he does and it is no different this year than it was last year.”
Another player under the microscope this season will be heralded wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., an All-Pro talent who had a controversial career with the New York Giants. When Beckham missed the majority of the team’s voluntary organized team activities earlier this year, it caused a fan furor.
“Odell is a bright guy,” said Kitchens. “He is smart. Odell doesn’t have a magic wand. He is going to work as hard as anybody to get better every day. I don’t buy into anything else that has happened anywhere else because everywhere else is not here. Odell is continuing to get better from a knowledge standpoint and from a technique standpoint.”
As training camp leads into the pre-season, Kitchens is concentrating on the basics with a team that has created a great deal of buzz in the NFL.
“We just want to get a little bit better every day and see where we are in the fall.”