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Browns’ Coach Freddie Kitchens Faces NFL’s Most Fascinating Task: Make The People Around Him Believe

The single-most challenging job in the NFL right now involves a man who doesn’t look like he belongs in the NFL. A little stocky, a little country. His name is Freddie Kitchens.

His job?

To transform the Cleveland Browns into something great.

While Kitchens might be the x-factor to Cleveland’s season, it won’t be for the usual reasons. These aren’t the same old Cleveland Browns we’re talking about. The talent is there—over the past two seasons Cleveland’s General Manager John Dorsey has assembled some of the most electric players in the NFL: Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Myles Garrett, Kareem Hunt, Denzel Ward, Sheldon Richardson…the list goes on. The roster is so talented that some are predicting this notoriously laughable team may be Super Bowl-worthy.

But much of that talent comes with challenges: Beckham, the talented receiver, was acquired after essentially setting his relationship with his original team, the New York Giants, afire with public comments and antics, while running back Kareem Hunt is coming off a very disturbing charge of assault against a young woman that led to his release from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Not to mention Mayfield, the very much non-traditional quarterback, who recently made the news after a video of him biting open and shot-gunning a beer at a Cleveland Indians game made the rounds on social media.
Freddie Kitchens has his hands full.

Heck, Bill Belichick would have his hands full with this lot. But this is Kitchens’ team.

And looking at his roster, it appears this team will need him to be the one to provide that spark of belief that they can do something special there.

When it comes to building Great Teams, there’s always someone who serves as the glue. The person who holds things together, bonds people to the cause, creates stability when inevitable challenge strikes. Often, that person is a seasoned leader, someone that everyone looks to when the chips are down because they have the experience that people seek.
Yet Freddie Kitchens has never been a head coach before.

At any level.

Hell, Kitchens started last season as the running backs coach. He was promoted to offensive coordinator after Cleveland did what Cleveland does and fired head coach Hue Jackson AND offensive coordinator Todd Haley midway through the 2018 season.
When the team’s performance turned around in the second half of the year, a lot of the credit went to Kitchens—enough that when the team went searching for a permanent head coach, they were willing to not only talk to him, but gamble on him.
Here’s the thing on Kitchens, though—he’s been a leader before. He played quarterback at the University of Alabama in the late-90s, leading the Crimson Tide to a 22-13 record over his three years at the helm.

Alabama then wasn’t Alabama now; so Kitchens learned the hard way how to rally guys through adversity and pull people together when things seemed to be falling apart. He put that leadership skill on display last year, and it won him the chance to coach this year.

Which is why he’s the most fascinating story to watch as we head into this football season. How well will he handle the talent and the temperaments—and can he turn that mixture into victories?

I face this challenge in my work all the time and chances are you do too. We’re surrounded by men and women we have to work with if we want to succeed, and that success depends on our ability to work with the distinctions and differences of those people. If you’ve ever felt the responsibility of making things work with a teammate or a co-worker, you know well the shoes that Kitchens is walking in these days. But the answer for Kitchens is the same as it is for you or me:
You have to build trust with the people around you. You have to nurture that trust and maintain that trust in order to execute together at a high level. You have the responsibility of working with the people around you to bring out their best, no matter their past.

That’s what will bring Kitchens success this year, far more than Xs and Os.

Like I said, it’s a fascinating situation, and not just for the schadenfreude typically associated with the Browns—Cleveland, the butt of many NFL jokes, the franchise that can’t get out of its own way, has a chance to really build on last year’s late-season success.

After two years of futility under Hue Jackson, Kitchens and company have a chance to do something rare by not only playing against hype but succeeding in the attempt.

If we’ll pay attention, we might just learn something. Here’s hoping it’s something good.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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