Freddie Kitchens: I know I'm not a popular choice and I don't care

CLEVELAND -- Freddie Kitchens said Monday he does not believe he was the popular choice to be the Browns' coach.

"It takes some guts to do what they did," Kitchens said as he nodded to team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam. "And I appreciate that. I won't let them down, and all you have to do is sit back and watch. Because I know that I am not a popular choice. I understand that, and I don't care."

"Popular" in this case seems relative.

Kitchens was popular in Cleveland when the Browns finished with five wins in their final eight games. His hiring also was greeted with excitement in the city that, he says, gets along well with him.

But his advancement in Cleveland also was meteoric. Kitchens went from unknown position coach hired a year ago from Arizona to interim offensive coordinator midway through the season to the team's 17th coach on Saturday -- following in the legacy established originally by Paul Brown and Blanton Collier.

Browns GM John Dorsey conceded that Kitchens was not on his preferred list of candidates when he arrived in Cleveland, but a few games into Kitchens' tenure as coordinator, he had earned his spot on the list of candidates.

Kitchens said he wanted a complete search for the job because he wanted the chance to show he deserved it. Dorsey obliged by discussing the opening for nine weeks with a search committee and then interviewing six other candidates. Dorsey said every member of the committee agreed that Kitchens was the right choice.

"I believe they made the best decision," Kitchens said. "And I believe that they believe they made the best decision."

Kitchens' biggest statement about the job came in his experience as the team's offensive coordinator for eight games, although he downplayed his role.

"I was just the guy directing the choir, per se," he said. "In church, you got the choir director, but it's the choir that gets the credit in that setting. Here everybody wants to give me the credit.

"I just get the people going, and they decided what they wanted to be."

Kitchens was at his folksy, down-home best as he spoke. During the season he had talked of growing up the son of a Goodyear factory worker. Monday he said that as his father dealt with strikes and layoffs, he eventually got a plumbing license.

Kitchens said that within a year or two of leaving Alabama, where he played quarterback, he was selling cars at a dealership in Tuscaloosa and washing FedEx trucks on weekends. While in the car wash, he would listen to the Crimson Tide games.

"It would almost bring me to tears listening to it," he said.

At that point he decided he "couldn't live without the game of football." He started his career at Glenville State College in Glenville, West Virginia, a school he mentioned more than once. He went on to work at LSU, North Texas and Mississippi State before working for 12 years in the NFL, mainly with the Cardinals.

Kitchens guessed that the reason he wasn't given many previous shots is that he's not a self-promoter or (in his words) media darling.

"Am I ready or not?" Kitchens said. "I don't know. Were you ready to be a parent?"

At one point during an interview after the news conference, Kitchens used the word facetious, then joked in his Gadsden, Alabama, drawl about using it.

"Would you have ever thought that I would use the word facetious?" he said. "Secondly, facetious is one of two words in the English language that every vowel is in order and it contains every vowel of the English language."

Kitchens hired offensive coordinator Todd Monken, but Kitchens will continue to call plays. The Browns' offense was energized during his time as coordinator. Baker Mayfield's completion percentage climbed from 58 percent to 68 percent, his yards per attempt from 6.6 to 8.6 and his Total QBR from 36 to 70. That and the 5-3 finish generated much excitement about the Browns' season and future, but Kitchens said the 7-8-1 record left him unsatisfied.

"It drives me crazy that people are happy with 7-8-1," he said. "It literally drives me crazy."

His goal is single: Hoist the Lombardi trophy after winning the Super Bowl. He said the game is fun when you win, and when you win, you have fun, a circular pattern that's hard to argue. He is not afraid to set the high goal or to talk about it.

It's that drive and the ability to unify a team and an organization that Dorsey said was appealing.

"Everybody's job is important," Kitchens said. "And you can't ever lose sight that the guy cleaning up the locker room's job is important. If he didn't have that job, it'd be pretty important. Or if he didn't do his job, you would realize it was pretty important. So everybody's job, no matter how small or how big, it's all equal, all right?

"So everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction on winning games. Because that's ultimately what we're doing. "