Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
The Browns’ coaching job arguably is the most attractive opening in the NFL.
For the first time, they should be able to draw from the best candidates available – maybe even from someone who would make himself available. It’s that good an opportunity.
With Baker Mayfield on board, and Myles Garrett, and a foundation of other young and exciting talent, with gobs of salary cap room and extra draft picks, in a division ripe for the taking, coaching candidates should be lining up for this job.
And the finalists reportedly are two coaches who were interim offensive coordinators for a combined total of 11 games in 2018?
John Dorsey led a head coaching search for the first – and possibly last – time in his career as a general manager. He prepped for six weeks to formulate a list of candidates. He left the team days at a time to do grunt work on prospective candidates.
And the two finalists reportedly being put forth are … Freddie Kitchens and Kevin Stefanski?
Why does this not feel right?
‘Next Sean McVay’ syndrome: Yes, Kitchens is a logical finalist.
As replacement coordinator for fired Todd Haley, he oversaw the side of the team that turned the season around. He connected instantly with Mayfield and made the changes to the offense that led to unforeseen growth in that unit.
Besides Mayfield’s accelerated development, you can probably credit Kitchens for replacing overmatched left tackle Desmond Harrison with Greg Robinson, for making Nick Chubb a more relevant fixture in the game plan – except in Baltimore -- and for giving Breshad Perriman the opportunity to win over everyone’s confidence as a deep receiving threat.
But the head coach job is a massive promotion, fraught with distracting administrative duties that even experienced coordinators often don’t master.
And then there’s the matter of burdening Kitchens with play-calling on game days while managing the game as head coach. Hue Jackson couldn’t do it, and, frankly, his resume as a coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals was more impressive than Kitchens’.
By making Kitchens head coach you dilute his apparent specialty – devising game plans and calling plays – and over-tax him with tasks with which he is unfamiliar.
If the Browns actually envisioned Kitchens having such a brilliant future as a head coach, why didn’t they name him the interim head coach instead of Gregg Williams?
As for Stefanski, much of the same argument applies.
But he was interim coordinator for only the final three Vikings games – after coach Mike Zimmer fired erstwhile flavor-of-the-month John DeFilippo. And his accomplishments in those games were far less pronounced than Kitchens.
Other than an operations internship with the Philadelphia Eagles, Stefanski has worked for no other NFL team than the Vikings.
He was personal assistant to Vikings head coach Brad Childress (2006-08), assistant quarterbacks coach under successor Leslie Frazier (2009-13), and then coached tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks under Zimmer coordinators Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur and DeFilippo.
I understand all these NFL teams are reaching for the next Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Rams’ wunderkind coach – a young, offensive, up-and-comer who takes the league by storm.
But resurrecting the wishbone formation and drawing up zany receiver option passes should not be confused with the myriad responsibilities of head coaching the entire team.
How did this happen?: Owner Jimmy Haslam constantly preaches collaboration in his organization. Everyone has to have a say in major decisions. He doesn’t appear to trust any one individual, so he shows trust to everyone.
In his last public appearance, Dorsey conspicuously refused to identify the members of this so-called search committee. It was later revealed to include Dorsey; Eliot Wolf, assistant GM; Paul DePodesta, chief strategy officer; JW Johnson, Haslam son-in-law and executive vice president; Andrew Berry, vice president of player personnel; and Haslam.
Stefanski is an Ivy Leaguer, a former defensive back at the University of Pennsylvania, and reportedly was known in Minnesota as a staunch advocate of analytics.
We know that DePodesta and Berry are Ivy Leaguers from Harvard University and remnants from the analytics regime of former executive vice president Sashi Brown.
So it’s unavoidable to conclude that Stefanski was the finalist promoted by the analytics sector of the search committee.
As for Kitchens, he plays to the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” crowd, likely headed by Haslam and Johnson. It’s a sound argument for Kitchens remaining as coordinator of the offense, but it falls apart applying it to head coach.
So where is Dorsey’s candidate? Again, six weeks of prep work and seven interviews, and these are the finalists to lead the Browns to the playoffs in 2019?
And what is the hurry?
Why are the Browns in such a rush when no other team is courting Kitchens or Stefanski for head coach?
Why can’t the Browns wait for the divisional round of the playoffs and see if Dan Campbell of the New Orleans Saints or Matt Eberflus of the Indianapolis Colts become available this weekend, and bring them in for second interviews?
Despite the presence of Dorsey leading this search, this is feeling like another typical Haslam coaching hire.