BEREA, Ohio — Baker Mayfield doesn’t flinch.
He has already perfected the exaggerated gum-smacking imitation of Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey, which made the rounds on social media last year. Surely, one more impersonation can’t hurt.
Given the chance to mimic his first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens on camera, Mayfield doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s pretty redneck. He doesn’t like when you say that, but I said it,” the quarterback jokes, before getting into character, arching his back to accentuate the features of his portly head coach. “ … He’s got his fingers out and he’s got his belly out and he’s got his country accent.”
Kitchens’ thick Southern drawl hugs every syllable that flows from his mouth. But don’t mistake Kitchens for a dolt.
“In seventh or eighth grade — he’s gonna kill me for this,” Dorsey told Yahoo Sports, divulging a detail from Kitchens’ past. “He was a part of a mathematical elementary school club. So don’t let that Southern dialect fool you.”
His players credit him as a disciplinarian. Members of the organization appreciate his lack of ego and ability to hold those around him accountable. Above all else, they respect the fact that Kitchens remains true to himself.
Said Dorsey: “There’s no gray area with Freddie.”
Following the abrupt midseason dismissals of former head coach Hue Jackson and coordinator Todd Haley, Kitchens emerged as a stabilizing force in the offensive meetings rooms. And when it came time for the Browns brass to select a new coach for 2019, “to a man, it was unanimous that Freddie was our guy,” Dorsey said.
Kitchens isn’t about conforming to anyone else’s standards. Nor does the Alabama native give a damn what outsiders think about him or his players.
The playful, wise-cracking coach is equal parts comedian and tell-it-like-it-is hard-ass.
“I’m going to be real. I’m going to be honest. I don’t really care who likes it,” said Kitchens, who previously worked under coaching legends Bill Parcells and Nick Saban. “… Trust and respect is what we’re going to be built on and I’m going to earn the respect and trust, and I’m never going to break that. … But in saying that, it has to be a two-way street.”
His recent title changes — running backs coach to interim offensive coordinator to current head coach — haven’t changed how Kitchens carries himself either.
“He’s the same guy,” said Jarvis Landry, one of the Browns’ most vocal leaders. “He stops by each and every meeting room. He comes in and he cracks jokes. Fills us in with details. Just little things that he did when he was a coordinator that kind of makes you respect him even more.
“He’s not trying to abuse his power or anything like that,” the receiver added. “He’s one of those guys that, what you see is what you get, and that’s one thing I respect about him. That’s part of the reason why I’m here now. I didn’t have to be here. This is voluntary. Part of the reason was my support for him taking over and being here for him.”
Kitchens may be universally liked, but the true test of his readiness will be determined by how well he’s able to devise a scheme that incorporates all of their new weapons Dorsey has amassed — namely new wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
That could prove to be a far more challenging task than the Browns expect, but their head coach doesn’t appear overly concerned.
“I just know the relationships I have with the players, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to give me everything I got,” said Kitchens. “… You can never have enough competitors and enough guys that can make plays.
“It’s the coaches’ job to utilize each one of their skill sets and get them open so they can make plays.”
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