Trying to bring Cleveland back to relevance is perfect job for Kitchens

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Football

CLEVELAND -- It didn't last long, but the year before he got back into football, Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens was a used-car salesman.

Such an odd fit for the plain-speaking Kitchens, a former Alabama quarterback who has always been a people person but can't get out of the way of his own candor.

"I like being straight up and honest with people," said Kitchens, 44. "I'd tell people, 'I wouldn't buy this car for this much.' But then you don't make any money, so you're kind of torn."

Still, Kitchens was salesman of the month twice in his three months at Magnolia Nissan BMW in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He could move that inventory, even though he didn't care for the job.

"I was just not happy," he said, his thick Southern drawl softened a bit by NFL moves from Dallas to Arizona to Cleveland. "Just kind of living life."

Twenty years later, after building a coaching career from the unglamorous ground floor and surviving a perilously close brush with death, Kitchens is trying to restore a once-classic NFL franchise. The Browns, who play host to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night, are studded with talent on both sides of the ball but still need to prove they can parlay that into victories.


They were embarrassed in their opener -- a 43-13 loss at home to Tennessee -- but came back in Week 2 with a 23-3 road win over the New York Jets. Now they face the 2-0 Rams, among the league's hottest teams, in a game that pits a pair of quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall: Cleveland's Baker Mayfield versus Jared Goff of the Rams.

This is one of four prime-time games for the Browns, who won four NFL championships yet haven't won a playoff game since the 1994 season. The team's hopes now hinge on an offense that includes the dynamic Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr., perhaps the best receiver in the game, and a defense featuring vice-grip ends Myles Garrett, also a former No. 1 pick, and Olivier Vernon.

Overseeing it all is the folksy, beefy Kitchens, who's refreshingly out of step with the buttoned-down, corporate NFL world. On the sideline, he wears an orange hoodie that reads "Dawg Pound," making him look as if he stepped right out of the crowd and pulled on a headset.

At one point last season, after Kitchens had been promoted to interim coach, he pulled on Mayfield's beard and teased him about it. When Kitchens walked away, the mic'ed quarterback rolled his eyes, looked over at a teammate and said playfully, "That guy's an idiot."


swipe to next page


blog comments powered by Disqus