Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
It was another busy week for events, announcements, rumors and speculation on the NFL coaching front – all of which affects the ESPN Cleveland Browns head coach tracker.
The tiniest morsel of information can have a ripple effect on the tracker. Multiple events can turn it upside down.
These were the news items of the week that produced a surprise new leader on this week’s tracker – Freddie Kitchens.
* Kitchens let down his guard that he really wants the job and feels he’s ready for it, and then produced another offensive gem jointly with Baker Mayfield to lift the Browns to a .500 record.
* In an unusual 7 p.m. Friday news dump, the Baltimore Ravens announced that John Harbaugh would return as coach in 2019, and that negotiations for a new contract beyond 2019 would commence. Harbaugh has declined to talk about it.
* Multiple reports claimed that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has emerged as the New York Jets’ No. 1 target.
* Yahoo Sports senior writer Charles Robinson opined that Paul DePodesta, Browns chief strategy officer, was the man most responsible for Gregg Williams being named interim coach to replace Hue Jackson – against the wishes of GM John Dorsey – and speculated that DePodesta would have influence in the Haslams’ choice for the full-time gig.
That’s a lot to digest, so let’s get to the sixth edition of the tracker.
The tracker ranks potential Browns candidates on points out of a possible 100.
1. Freddie Kitchens, Browns offensive coordinator … 18 points.
Last week: 8. 7 points.
His quantum leap into the top spot is based on the premise that the greatest factor in the Browns’ 5-2 turnaround post-Hue has been the meshing of Mayfield with Kitchens’ innovative offensive mind. Contrary to reports, Kitchens can not be lured away as an offensive coordinator. While under contract to the Browns, the club can flatly refuse any interviews with other teams – the only exception being for the position of head coach. Like the Los Angeles Rams did with Sean McVay two years ago, the Browns could reasonably conclude that if Kitchens is on the fast track to be an NFL head coach, then it would be better to move him into that office a year too soon rather than lose him to somebody willing to take that gamble.
2. Gregg Williams, Browns interim coach … 17 points.
Last week: 2. 14 points.
Williams is savvy enough to understand the power structure in the building. If Robinson’s opinion of DePodesta is accurate – that Williams was DePodesta’s choice to be interim coach -- then surely Williams has been sly enough to embrace the analytics department that the La Jolla, CA-based DePodesta oversees. This much is certain: the fact that DePodesta remains part of the organization after the 1-31 disaster of 2016-17 attests to some influence with the Haslams.
3. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma head coach … 14 points.
Last week: 1. 15 points.
We think the Sooners coach is No. 1 on John Dorsey’s “college division” list. For that reason, Riley will stay relatively high on the tracker until he publicly announces he is not leaving for the NFL.
4. Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator … 12 points.
Last week: 3. 12 points.
We think Toub is No. 1 on Dorsey’s “NFL division” list. But in addition to other perceived negatives – his age (56), lack of pizzazz, risk in elevating a special teams coach – he may be tied up through Feb. 3 if the No. 1 AFC seed Chiefs make it to the Super Bowl.
5. Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator … 11 points.
Last week: 9. 6 points.
With the Patriots dynasty on its last legs and no reinforcements on hand at quarterback, receiver and tight end, jumping off the Bill Belichick bandwagon seems a foregone conclusion for McDaniels. There’s no telling the extent to which owner Bob Kraft will go to keep him, however.
6. Kris Richard, Dallas Cowboys passing game coordinator … 9 points.
Last week: 6. 10 points.
Word is the Browns’ Green Bay guys – Dorsey, Eliot Wolf, Alonzo Highsmith – prefer an offensive-minded coach. But if anyone can come from “the other side,” it would be Richard, who is highly thought of and enters the hiring season as probably the No. 1 minority candidate.
7. Mike McCarthy, former Green Bay Packers head coach … 8 points.
Last week: 4. 12 points.
The Pittsburgh-native has been linked to every potential opening. While the Haslams may consider him a safe choice, he should be hotly pursued by other teams.
8. Bruce Arians, retired head coach, CBS game analyst … 6 points.
Last week: 5. 11 points.
At 66, his energy level might be a concern. The perception that he would bring 3-4 aficionado Chuck Pagano as defensive coordinator might be a deal-breaker.
9. Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator … 3 points.
Last week: 11. 1 point.
He could receive an interview as a minority candidate, but there doesn’t seem to be a groundswell of support for him as a legit head coach candidate.
10. Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach … 2 points.
Last week: 7. 8 points.
Like Baylor’s Matt Ruhle a year ago, he could receive an interview somewhere in the NFL. It could be with the Browns if Dorsey is able to get him through the “senior management” blockade.
Dropped out: John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens head coach.