Freddie Kitchens sold cars and washed FedEx trucks when he was in his early 20s. Now he's the head coach of an NFL team.
"It drives me crazy that people are happy with 7-8-1," Kitchens said during his opening statement. "It drives me literally crazy, and if I were in a different setting, my vocabulary would demonstrate that. But that's not acceptable. Nobody here wants that. We understand that was an improvement, but under no circumstance is that ever going to be acceptable.
"We only have one goal here, and that's to hoist the Lombardi Trophy."
Kitchens ascended from running backs coach to interim offensive coordinator following the dismissals of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley after Week 8. Cleveland's offense, led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, exploded under Kitchens' direction. It was so good, it earned him an interview for the vacant head coaching position. And a second interview. And eventually, the job itself.
Now that he's the head man in charge, will he still call plays?
You bet. But he's quickly assembled a star-studded staff of experienced coordinators and assistants, from defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to offensive line coach James Campen, who was beloved for his work in Green Bay. Perhaps the most important of all additions was the tabbing of Todd Monken as offensive coordinator, who spent the last three seasons filling the same role in Tampa Bay.
Monken did well in a similar setup under offensive-minded coach Dirk Koetter, helping the Buccaneers to top-four finishes in passing in two of his three seasons. Despite the daunting presence of snow, Monken is moving north because of the culture Kitchens intends to cultivate in Cleveland.
"I told Todd yesterday, I didn't want to hire someone and just give them the title of offensive coordinator," Kitchens said of Monken on Monday. "I wanted an offensive coordinator that just wasn't going to call plays.
"And in saying that, let me tell you about Todd Monken. He made a decision based on people. Our decisions here are going to be made on people, what type of person that is, what type of person you're going to be surrounded with. Todd made a decision based on people. He had other opportunities. And he came in and made the decision for what he was going to be surrounded with and the environment that was going to be created moving forward."
There's still the unknown element of Kitchens' preparedness for the head coaching job. He's never been one before, and even if he's a respected assistant, it's still a hefty jump to the top. Kitchens, candid and charming as ever, had a perfect response for such uncertainty.
"Am I ready or not? I don't know," Kitchens said. "Were you ready to be a parent?"
He'll have a sizeable advantage, thanks to the presence of and established relationship with Mayfield, who looks every bit of the franchise quarterback Cleveland has unsuccessfully pursued since its return to the NFL in 1999. Their nine weeks spent together in 2018 should allow them to hit the ground running in 2019.
"I think Baker does a good job of understanding his role and his job, and he understands, I told him he's never going to be a finished product," Kitchens said in an interview with NFL Network's Omar Ruiz. "You're not a finished product as a person, you're not a finished product as a coach and you're definitely not a finished product as a player. So as long as he keeps that mantra alive as far as of getting better on a day in and day out basis, we'll be fine."
Fine is not 7-8-1, meaning Cleveland is aiming for heights unseen since the days of Bernie Kosar. Kitchens stood alongside Ruiz on the club level inside FirstEnergy Stadium on Monday and the two looked out at the snow-covered field and empty seats, marveling at the peaceful beauty of winter.
"It's not too beautiful because it's not crowded and packed in January," Kitchens said. "That's where we eventually want to get to, is playing games in January."