The Cleveland Browns have had a total of nine coaching searches since 1999. The previous eight searches have netted the likes of Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine, and Hue Jackson. This offseason was the ninth coaching search and the Browns ended their search with the selection of Freddie Kitchens as the Browns newest head coach. Over the past handful of searches, it is hard to say that there was one well run one, but this offseason’s search is a different story. It was done right.
First of all, this coaching hunt starting with different circumstances than any of the other eight searches before it. The Browns were coming off a season with so much hope and excitement because of the way the team ended the season. The Browns were already trending up before the future head coach was even decided. The circumstance is also completely different than ever before because of the situation at quarterback. With Baker Mayfield at quarterback, Cleveland came into the search with a quarterback position settled and the future of the position looks bright. So, this search had the right start to it.
According to multiple reports, the Browns had a search committee consisting of Owner Jimmy Haslam, General Manager John Dorsey, Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, Vice President of Player Personnel Andrew Berry, Assistant General Manager Eliot Wolf and Executive Vice President JW Johnson. But, the orchestrator of the search was Dorsey. Owner Jimmy Haslam obviously had to give the final nod, but Dorsey was the man in control of the ship.
When Dorsey came on board as the Browns new general manager, he was forced into an arranged marriage with then Head Coach Hue Jackson. Many believed it was not long for Jackson to be out as coach and the Browns to be in search of a new head coach. Dorsey came into the job with a list of coaches he would want to be the head coach and so the arranged marriage only lengthened the time that Dorsey had to compile his possible list of candidates. So, when Jackson was fired midseason, it was expected that Dorsey had his list of coaches lined up and ready to go.
But, he did not rush into this decision with a bunch of interviewees who were in his orbit. In total, the Browns officially interviewed seven candidates with a wide range of characteristics and credentials. Interim Browns Head Coach Gregg Williams, former NFL head coach Jim Caldwell, Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, Saints assistant head coach/tight ends Dan Campbell, Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens made up the Browns coaching search interviews. The group consisted of two former head coaches, two young, bright offensive coordinators and three defensive coordinators with a variety of experience levels. It hit every type of coach on the spectrum that you could think of targeting.
In the past, we have seen nepotism sour the coaching searches, creating searches that did not give out their best result. Dorsey did not do that in this search. He supposedly did not interview Mike McCarthy, who many believed would be the pick because of his connection to Dorsey in Green Bay.1 He did not interview the multiple candidates in Kansas City that many believed would get interviews due to Dorsey’s time with the Chiefs. Dorsey had a wide-ranging list with many of the top candidates across the league.
The last part that was instrumental in the search was owner Jimmy Haslam. Haslam has shown the propensity to stick his head in the decision-making of the franchise without the required knowledge of the task. In this coaching search, Haslam had a chance to throw in candidates who he wanted, like Adam Gase, who was supposedly recommended by his friend Peyton Manning. Haslam let Dorsey run the show and that was a nice thing to see.
The strong coaching search process also included an important cog. As quarterback of the Browns, Mayfield is the centerpiece of the franchise. Dorsey knew that. So, Dorsey supposedly incorporated Mayfield into the coaching search, according to ESPN. The general manager knows that Mayfield is key to future of this franchise, so he needed to be included in the process. That is important to where the process ended.
Now, let’s get to the final decision of naming Freddie Kitchens as head coach. Before the season, Kitchens was not even in an earshot of being a head coaching candidate. But, his impressive performance as interim offensive coordinator with the Browns catapulted him into the discussion for Cleveland’s head coach position. He raised the level of the offense and made it one of the most productive ones in the NFL during his coaching span. And this showed a really good thing about Dorsey’s coaching search. He coveted production, success and one of the biggest characteristics, fit. Dorsey saw how Kitchens clicked with the cornerstone of the franchise, Baker Mayfield. All of this led up to Kitchens being the man for the job.
Who could have predicted when Dorsey took the job that in his first chance at selecting a head coach, Kitchens would be the man he chose to be the head coach. Nepotism was not even in the process. Dorsey went with the candidate he saw first hand produce and fit with the franchise and its players. There was no controversy. The Browns found their next head coach after a well thought out process led by Dorsey. The process was finally done right.