Browns, WWW

Reflecting on previous Browns coach decisions: While We’re Waiting…

Another year, another coach. Freddie Kitchens was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday, although the news has yet to be officially confirmed by the organization.

Kitchens, the 44-year-old former Alabama quarterback, will be the ninth full-time head coach in 21 seasons of the reborn Browns franchise. While he’s certainly the most unheralded of the bunch, if there’s anything we’ve learned from recent NFL coaching decisions, it’s that just about anything could happen from here.

In the rejoicing of the fully-baked-and-cooked decision, I felt it would be appropriate to review through the at-the-time-of-the-hire resumes of the most recent Browns coaches. And look back through one near-hire and how it preceded the recent craze spreading throughout football.

  1. Chris Palmer, 1999-2000, hired at age 49.

Before taking the incredibly challenging inaugural Browns head coaching position, Palmer had most recently been the offensive coordinator for the early-era Jacksonville Jaguars. This followed four years with the New England Patriots and over two decades in assistant roles throughout college football, the CFL and the USFL.

  1. Butch Davis, 2001-2004, hired at age 49.

Most famously, Davis was the head coach at the University of Miami for six seasons prior to landing in Cleveland. There, he oversaw the development of multiple future NFL stars such as Red Reed and Ray Lewis. He rode a wave of optimism and excitement to the Browns. Previously, had coached on the Cowboys defensive staff for six years prior, as well, including two years as the defensive coordinator. Never forget that 2002 playoff game though, ugh.

  1. Romeo Crennel, 2005-2008, hired at age 47.

Would you look at that, more Patriots and Bill Belichick connections? He was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots from 2001-04, the Browns in 2000, and worked on the defensive line for the Jets, Pats, and Giants in the many years before that. Obviously, the success with the Patriots lifted his prestige. And the 10-win 2007 season remains the high watermark for regular season wins by the new Browns franchise. The next year, WFNY’s first full calendar year of existence, was an enormous fall back to reality.

  1. Eric Mangini, 2009-2010, hired at age 37.

Mangini was the youngest coach in the NFL … with the New York Jets from 2006-08. He brought along several of his old Jets players to Cleveland during his tenure with the franchise. He also had defensive experience with the Patriots (of course) in the several years prior. Mangini is one of only two retread head coaches the Browns have hired in their recent history. Long live, Mangenius.

  1. Pat Shurmur, 2011-2012, hired at age 45.

The current head coach of the New York Giants, Shurmur had been the offensive coordinator for two seasons for the then-St. Louis Rams. He was the quarterbacks’ coach for the Eagles in the seven prior seasons, leading a successful run for the franchise under Andy Ried and Donovan McNabb. Many Browns fans, per usual, complained about conspiracies and shared agent connections.

  1. Rob Chudzinski, 2013, hired at age 34.

As the youngest coach the Browns have hired, Chudzinski actually did have four full seasons of offensive coordinator experience under his belt! That was in 2011-12 in Carolina and 2007-08 in Cleveland under Crennel. He also had been a tight ends coach in Cleveland, San Diego and the University of Miami previously. But boy … this hire sure was something. At the time I wondered: Do coaches even matter whatsoever?

An aside: Let’s talk about Chip Kelly.

The entire 2013 head coaching search and the media buzz surrounding it was quite the scene. What I remember most: Everything Chip Kelly, all the time. Just look at the all the coverage we had of it all!

Chip was going … then staying … then ultimately going to Philadelphia, where he coached the Eagles for three years, followed by one tumultuous season in San Francisco, and now ultimately at UCLA where he had another rough landing.

Gosh, it’s so hard to overstate how much of a sensation Chip Kelly news was in 2013. I devoted thousands of words to him in an edition of The Diff. His offense, his “genius”, his brand was all the rage throughout football. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Sean McVay craze circa 2017-18.

While I think the Arizona Cardinals are pretty outlandish in going with the just-fired Kliff Kingsbury … everyone is always looking for the next big thing. Chip was all the rage in 2013. And now he isn’t. McVay could certainly last, or maybe he won’t. Nothing is really ever guaranteed for certain besides another craze coming along again soon.

  1. Mike Pettine, 2014-2015, hired at age 47.

The Browns needed to seemingly one-up themselves from the out-of-nowhere Chudzinski hire. In the head coach draft my friends and I conducted, the running joke was what pick Pettine would’ve been five years ago. He was the defensive coordinator for the Bills in 2013 and the Jets in the four years prior. Before that, he was a long-time Ravens defensive staffer. So, there was legit NFL experience in all of that! But just absolutely no ties whatsoever to anything Cleveland.

  1. Hue Jackson, 2016-2018, hired at age 50.

Ah yes, this one. Let the record clearly state, however: this hire was adored throughout the league media. Jackson had served his time, had a perfectly fine 8-8 one season as head coach in Oakland, and oversaw offensive growths in Washington and Cincinnati. He had also been the offensive coordinator in Atlanta and quarterbacks coach in Baltimore. Many expected this to turn out great for everyone! And it didn’t, quite clearly.

As we all know far too well now, Freddie Kitchens has the least amount of full-time coordinator or head coaching history of any of these individuals. He had always been an offensive positions coach throughout the league, including his 10 years out in the desert with the Cardinals. He’s older than Chudzinski or Mangini were at the time of their hiring … and the only internal hire into the full-time head coach position.

But due to the franchise trajectory and Kitchen’s familiarity with a certain Baker Mayfield, the excitement level has likely never been higher than maybe the Butch Davis move? It’s a far different world than all of the other shots-in-the-dark hoping for a major turnaround. This time, it seems more steady, more secure, and far more stable, even with Kitchens’ less decorated past.