CLEVELAND — Through the first seven games of the season, Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens’ performance hasn’t been great. In fact, it looks like he’s bitten off more than he can chew while managing his first-ever head coaching position and choosing to take on play-calling duties at the same time.
Only a handful of NFL coaches have been able to do both successfully. While it’s too early to call for his firing just yet, the team -- as evidenced by the benching of tackle Greg Robinson -- is looking at adjustments that could salvage the rest of the Browns season.
In a press conference following the Browns' 27-13 loss to the Patriots Sunday, Kitchens reiterated a point he’s made all season—he won’t be giving up play-calling duties.
"I'm calling the plays. I'm the head coach," Kitchens said.
Even though he’s adamant about holding onto play-calling duties, here’s the case for why the rookie head coach should reconsider while the Browns still have a shot at their first winning season for the first time since 2007:
It’s been done before
Handing off play-calling doesn’t always mark the beginning of the end for a head coach. In fact, sometimes it’s the exact opposite.
Take head coach Andy Reid, for example. (Yes, of the Chiefs, the old stomping grounds of Browns general manager John Dorsey.) In 2017, the Chiefs started strong, winning their first five games. After hitting a skid, they lost six of their next seven. So what did Reid do? He handed off play-calling duties to his offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, and the team went on to win their last four games and clinch the AFC West.
Prior to that, Reid relinquished his play-calling duties in 2015 to his then offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. After a 1-5 start to the season that year, Reid accepted the blame for the poor start, and when questions about his future with the team came into play, he ate his slice of humble pie and handed over the play-calling.
It’s not clear at what point Reid explicitly handed over the play-calling reins to Pederson that season, but it’s safe to assume that it came soon after the 1-5 start. The Chiefs went on to win every remaining regular-season game and finished with an 11-5 record, earning their first playoff win since 1994.
The Chiefs’ 2015 season is very similar to the situation the Browns and Kitchens are in now. Even with a 2-5 start, the Browns have the potential to win out for the rest of the season and end with the same record the Chiefs did the first time Reid ceded play-calling duties in 2015. Cleveland’s next nine opponents have a combined record of 17-31-1, so they could end the season with a winning record—if something changes, that is.
Just for now, not forever
If Kitchens gave up his play-calling duties, it doesn't mean he can never take them back.
After giving up play-calling in 2015, Reid took back his play-calling duties for the 2016 season and finished first in the AFC West. After he gave them up in 2017, he took them back in 2018 and led his team to the AFC Championship.
On-the-fly play-calling and decision-making have been a weakness for the Browns this season. If Kitchens handed the play-calling duties over to his offensive coordinator Todd Monken, he could develop deeper relationships and connections with players and staff while having more game-time awareness.
After the Week 3 loss to the Rams, Kitchens said that he was using each week to learn.
“The first thing we can do better is I can start calling better plays. I can start doing a better job in the course of the week of putting our guys in better situations so that will happen. Have I learned a lot of stuff? Yeah, but the main thing I have learned is to do what the hell we are supposed to do, put these guys in better situations and call a better game on Sunday,” Kitchens said.
His best chance at putting his guys in better situations may start with putting himself in a better situation — by handing over play-calling duties. For now, at least.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.