For some, Freddie Kitchens arose out of nowhere last year, first as the Cleveland Browns' interim offensive coordinator and then as their new head coach. But for those that know him, his ascent isn't quite as surprising, even if it wasn't typical.
In an age where young, offensive specialists experience meteoric rises to the top of the coaching profession (see the Cardinals' Kliff Kingsbury, Packers' Matt LaFleur and Bengals' Zac Taylor from the last cycle alone), the 44-year-old Kitchens is somewhat of an outlier whose career was built one brick at a time.
He first became a position coach back in 2001, at North Texas. He's been coaching in the NFL since 2006, spending 11 years with the Cardinals, the last of which as a running backs coach. He was never so much an OC until the final eight games of the 2018 season.
For those wondering if he's prepared for such a task, know that Kitchens has an ardent supporter in University of Alabama coach Nick Saban.
"I think Freddie's got a tremendous psychological disposition about what it takes to be successful as a coach," Saban said Thursday in an appearance on Up to the Minute. "He knows how important it is to be knowledgeable because that knowledge is what helps you create good relationships and trust with your players, and he's been around some great people, Bill Parcells and some really, really good people that he's learned from."
That list includes Saban, who hired the former Crimson Tide QB to be a graduate assistant on his initial LSU staff in 2000. Saban made it clear that Kitchens knows more than offense. He knows people.
"He's got great common sense, he's very bright, he's very intelligent, and he understands human behavior extremely well," Saban added. "And I think the relationships he's going to build on that team, and the trust and respect that they have in their organization because of that, is going to help him be successful. They got some good young players and I think Freddie will do an outstanding job with those guys."
Last month, Saban had Kitchens speak at his coaching clinic, where the latter stated that the core of his coaching philosophy comes from college football's winningest football coach this century. Yet, it was Saban who was so moved by the rest of Kitchens' speech that he relayed it to his players. He then relayed it to reporters.
"We have about five choices in our life," Saban said Kitchens shared. "I mean, we can be bad at what we do. I mean, we can be average at what we do. I mean, we can be good at what we do, which is probably God's expectation for whatever ability he gave us. Or we can be excellent or we can be elite. And everybody has a choice as to what they want to do and how they're going to do that. But if you're going to be excellent or elite you've got to do special things.
"You have to have special intensity, you have to have special focus, you have to have a special commitment and drive and passion to do things at a high level and a high standard all the time. And it doesn't matter what God-given ability that you have -- that probably can make you good -- but without the rest of it I'm not sure you ever get excellent or elite, and that's the part we're trying to get to."