Yes, I said it, now put down your pitchforks, your torches, and lower your voice. I get it. I too am watching the train wreck that has become the Browns 2019 season. I’ve seen every missed call, blown challenge, false start, interception, drop, sack, fumble, and social media blowup. I was there in person watching the Browns struggle against a team that just fumbled a game against the tanking Miami Dolphins. I will be there this Sunday to see them undoubtedly struggle again. I’ve heard and agree with those who claim that this has been the most difficult season to watch out of any since the ’99 return. There are few words that come to mind to describe just how disappointing it has been. In fact, I failed to find any, which is why I looked back in history for better verbiage, passing middle English and going straight for the language of King Edward the 1st. This season is gealgmod. This year is hreowcearig. And while I have no idea how to pronounce these adjectives, I feel fairly confident that I can pronounce the Browns playoff hopes dead.
So why defend Freddie, the seemingly inept leader of a talented team with three times more losses than wins? I mean, what was John Dorsey thinking? How could the Haslam’s sit idle and allow this to happen? Because I think in all this well earned hate we’re ignoring a few variables that should be addressed. Regardless of who you choose to point the finger at, Kitchens was hired to be the head coach of this football team, so, as difficult as it might be, let’s try and pretend that we are not Browns fans. It’s nearly impossible for me to do, and why shouldn’t it be? Tuning in for Cleveland games in the fall has produced more backache than shoveling a cul-de-sac in the snow belt. But looking at it objectively, there is enough to play devil’s advocate.
Most opinions I’ve seen are in agreement. Freddie did not have enough experience to warrant a head coaching offer. You could say that his in game management has proved that. So what are we supposed to do, assume that he is incapable of learning? These things take time, and for those who would argue that nothing has improved since the season opener, I would argue the opposite (mainly because the performance against Tennessee was so awful). Half a season is nothing in a coach’s career. Yes, the Browns did the NFL equivalent of give a kid who recently earned his learners permit the keys to a Lamborghini and asked him to drive it into the promise land. No one is arguing against that, but now that we know, is it fair to expect him to produce immediately?
What would it say about Cleveland’s front office if Kitchens was fired before he had a chance to grow into his position? They knew he was green, as did everyone, but we were clouded by the strong performance he had as interim offensive coordinator, and assumed that things would naturally transition. If Dorsey truly did his job and hired who he thought would be most successful as head coach, he will give him time to develop all the experience he did not have before this January. That may not be a popular opinion, but it sure seems like the right one.
While I could use it in this argument, I hate the “good franchises don’t fire a coach mid-season” trope. That’s only true because good franchises almost never fire their coaches. They’re too busy winning. But where would we be if we hired an inexperienced offensive mind and gave him nine weeks of hands on learning before tossing him through the revolving door? I don’t know about you, but it took me much longer to become truly comfortable in my work, and what I do is pillow soft compared to being an NFL head coach.
Think about the obstacles this guy has dealt with in his first year. Cleveland was given a top two strength of schedule over the first eight games. His coaching staff was pieced together in part by the general manager. There was a crushing amount of expectation, and a locker room filled with players who were used to playing as individuals, tossed into an environment that has yet to establish a culture of winning, even after two decades of giving it a shot.
There are crippling issues that seem to be a real threat to this team’s success, and I’ll throw out some statistics and you can take them as you will. Here are the number of turnovers they’ve committed on a per week basis, beginning with their opener against the Titans, followed by their second game against the Jets and so on: 3, 1, 1, 1, 4, 4, 3, 0. Here’s the same series in regards to penalties: 18-182, 9-85, 8-60, 6-41, 7-55, 9-83, 13-85, 5-40. It’s been a rollercoaster to say the least.
If you’re reading this, I assume you may have an emotional attachment to Cleveland’s success, which is why it’s difficult to argue this point. I want Kitchens to be held responsible for his moronic decisions just like everyone else, but for better or worse, he should have his chance to make mistakes. This team’s roster was built to win now, but its coaching staff was not, and if we want a chance to see head coach Kitchens blossom into his full potential, we’re going to have to ride it out, no matter what that might manifest itself as.
I’ll go ahead and say it again. I get it. The Browns stomping all over our first legitimate expectations in years can really screw with your head. I hear The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and imagine it as a metaphor for this franchise. I listen to Bonzo goes to Bitburg and wonder if Joey Ramone was referring specifically to Freddie Kitchens. Cleveland sports will do that to you. But let’s see this one through, waddya say? After twenty years of trash, what’s two more months? Riot, recommence.