NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Browns hired Kitchens as their new head coach, per a source informed of the decision. The team later made the news official.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported the news.
The news culminates a meteoric rise for the 44-year-old Kitchens. The Alabama native began the 2018 campaign as the Browns' running backs coach. He was elevated to offensive coordinator when Cleveland canned Hue Jackson and Todd Haley midway through the season.
The Browns offense exploded under Kitchens' guidance, who unleashed a diverse, multifaceted attack that had defenses running in circles. Cleveland averaged 23.8 points per game with Kitchens calling the plays and scored on 79.2 percent of its red zone trips.
The rapport with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield obviously played a huge role in the Browns electing to hand Kitchens the top job after just eight career games as a play-caller. The quarterback threw for 2,254 yards, tossed 19 of his rookie-record 27 TD passes, and was sacked just five times as the Browns went 5-3 down the stretch. According to Next Gen Stats, Mayfield was more effective on deep passes (20-plus air yards) when Kitchens began calling plays, throwing seven deep TD passes since Week 9 (tied for most in the NFL). The dive-bombing acumen was thanks in part to Kitchens' personnel usage and play design.
As OC, Kitchens also helped unleash running back Nick Chubb, who excelled as a tackle-breaking demon, destroying stacked boxes. The rookie RB earned the most rushing yards in the NFL (362) versus eight-man boxes in 2018.
Given his youth and creative offensive mind, Kitchens would have likely been a hot coaching candidate down the road had he remained a coordinator. The Browns assured that won't happen, locking down the man who splashed onto the scene midway through the season.
Kitchens has impressive connections throughout the football world. After serving as a quarterback for Alabama from 1993 to 1997, Kitchens worked as a grad assistant under Nick Saban at LSU in 2000. He made the leap to the pro level as a tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys in 2006 under Bill Parcells. Kitchens spent the next 11 seasons in Arizona, first working under Ken Whisenhunt as the tight ends coach in 2007. He moved to quarterbacks coach when Bruce Arians took over the Cardinals in 2013 and spent his final season in the desert as the RBs coach in 2017.
The lack of head-coaching experience could be cause for concern as Kitchens takes over a talented but young rising Browns squad. However, even in his brief time as OC, Kitchens showed rapport with players, specifically Mayfield, to suggest Cleveland can succeed with the inexperienced coach.
One of the most important early decisions the new coach must make is selecting a defensive coordinator. The Browns relieved DC and interim coach Gregg Williams of his duties, per NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala. Getting an experienced defensive play-caller in the building would be big for Kitchens in his first year as the head coach, as we saw with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Browns clearly were angling for a young, offensive mind to guide Mayfield through his ascension. The two finalists for Cleveland's coaching job were Kitchens and Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski, who combined had 11 games of NFL play-calling experience. The Browns elected to stick with the in-house candidate. Stefanski is now expected to return to Minnesota to serve as the Vikings' full-time offensive coordinator, per Rapoport.
The impressive strides the Browns made under Kitchens mark it an intriguing selection. Cleveland could have gone the safe route and elected a retread or a more experienced coordinator. Instead, the team went with a talented play-caller who has already shown he can scheme and work with their young quarterback.
The budding Browns team now has an equally green coach with whom to grow together for what looks like a very bright future.