CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns were officially eliminated from the playoff hunt with their loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon. It felt like the kind of game head coach Freddie Kitchens needed to win to stake a strong claim for keeping his job. Instead, fans suffered through another frustrating loss. No one wants to see this organization go through yet another rebuild after the decades of misery the team has put its fans through, but a change at head coach this time would be different than it was in the past—this time they wouldn’t be starting at square one.
The case for parting ways
A report that was published Dec. 15 by the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport claimed the Browns organization is planning to move forward with Kitchens as the head coach “barring a horrific collapse or circumstance to end the season.”
Last week, the Browns lost to the three-win Arizona Cardinals in an embarrassing display. The defense was nowhere to be found and players, such as running back Kareem Hunt, admitted to feeling as though some of the team didn’t give their all.
The team was outplayed by a less talented roster and out-coached again.
Outside of special teams, Kitchens and his staff (ahem, Steve Wilks) have not shown much in the way of growth this season.
Then they went ahead and lost a winnable game against the Ravens.
Why this time would be different
The main argument for giving Kitchens another year to prove himself is that firing the head coach and starting over hasn’t worked in the past for the Browns, who have had nine full-time head coaches since their return to Cleveland in 1999. (WHY DOES IT FEEL LIKE MORE?!?)
With just two winning seasons in the past 20 years and one playoff appearance, it's clear the coaching changes haven’t been effective in finding success for the Browns.
Here’s the thing, though—none of the other coaches who came before Kitchens had the kind of talent that this roster has. There was no Baker Mayfield, there was Cody Kessler. There was no Myles Garrett and Sheldon Richardson to ignite the pass rush, there was Barkevious Mingo. There was no consistency with Jarvis Landry, there was uncertainty with Josh Gordon. There was nothing comparable to the Odell Beckham Jr. signing, there was no elite talent being brought in at all.
Starting from square one would mean a foundation would need to be built. The Browns have their foundation. They have, on paper, a loaded roster full of offensive weapons and defensive threats.
It’s been difficult to view this season that way because the team hasn’t been able to come together into the cohesive unit the fans hoped they’d see. Fingers can be pointed at the players, but the way a team rallies together around the right coach matters.
Firing the head coach this time still leaves the team with a core group of talented players, something the Browns have never seen before.
It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, and bringing in another unproven head coach would likely end in the same results that we’ve seen this season. But bringing in a veteran leader, like a Mike McCarthy or Ron Rivera, could be the missing piece to this Browns puzzle. (That and some o-line strength, of course.)
"I'm focused on my job, and that's what they want. I've gotten nothing but total support from [Jimmy and Dee Haslam, John Dorsey],' Kitchens said in a press conference on Monday following the team's loss to the Ravens.
We don't know when that support will run out, but this roster isn't built to suffer through another losing season.