Browns general manager John Dorsey released the following statement on the decision:
"I would like to thank Freddie for his dedication and efforts this past season. We are disappointed in our results and feel a change is necessary. Freddie is a good man and good football coach. We wish he and his family nothing but success."
Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam also commented on the decision:
"We thank Freddie for his hard work and commitment to this organization but did not see the success or opportunities for improvement to move forward with him as our head coach. Our focus is on hiring an exceptional leader for this football team and we will take a comprehensive approach to this process. We are excited about the core players we have to build around and develop and we look forward to bringing in a strong head coach that will put this group of players in the best position to succeed."
Looking ahead to Kitchens' replacement, Baylor coach Matt Rhule has no interest in the job, per Michael Lombardi of the Athletic.
The move comes after the Browns lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 33-23 to finish 6-10 and fall well short of their preseason expectations.
Kitchens' departure continues what has been a revolving door since the Haslams assumed ownership of the team:
Blame for the team's poor performance extends beyond the head coach.
Dez Bryant @DezBryant
Baker mayfield plays the biggest part in this...had a stud cast around him under performed and got out performed by somebody he talked down on Danny dimes... big mouth and being a one read QB not going to cut it.. kitchens put the game in his players hands https://t.co/jhEF56wpDl
Charles Robinson @CharlesRobinson
With Freddie Kitchens out, I believe #Browns owner Jimmy Haslam will alter the executive layer. I do not believe the power dynamic between GM John Dorsey and chief strategist Paul DePodesta will remain the same. A new structure is going to emerge in the next head coaching search.
Firing Kitchens is the easy decision to make in response to how things have unfolded, though.
Cleveland went 7-8-1 in 2018, posting its most wins since 2014. All seven of the victories came after Baker Mayfield replaced Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback, and Mayfield finished the year by throwing a rookie-record 27 touchdowns.
As the Browns searched for a new head coach, promoting Kitchens made sense. He was the team's offensive coordinator as Mayfield flourished, so maintaining a level of continuity with the scheme seemed to be a good way to continue the young passer's progression.
The Browns were poised to have one of the NFL's most explosive offenses and challenge for their first playoff berth since 2002.
Kitchens' ouster is a testament to how things have gone since then, and Mayfield's performance has been the most damning indictment.
Heading into Week 17, Mayfield's completion percentage had fallen from 63.8 to 60.2, and his 18 interceptions are tied for second-most in the NFL. Whereas Beckham's arrival should've opened up the passing game even more, Mayfield's adjusted yards per attempt have gone from 7.5 in 2018 to 6.1 this season, according to Pro Football Reference.
Simply put, there's no reason for a unit that includes Mayfield, Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb to rank 18th in total offense (342.8 yards per game) and 20th in offensive efficiency heading into Week 17, per Football Outsiders.
Warren Sharp @SharpFootball
Freddie Kitchens had all season plus the bye to look at these numbers. If he hasn't figured it out by now, he either isn't being presented the data or doesn't think it matters. The Browns are substantially better from 12 than they are from 11 & yet he continues to overuse 11. https://t.co/NLGKIFGsM7
USA Today's Mike Jones wondered in October whether Kitchens was in over his head following the promotion from coordinator to head coach:
"One of the biggest questions Kitchens faced when the Browns promoted him from interim offensive coordinator to head coach centered on his lack of experience and his ability to handle directing the offense with the same potency of his seven-game audition in 2018 while also running the team as a whole.
"So far, he's still looking for answers. His quarterback has not progressed, and his offense lacks the same aggression and creativity of a year ago despite talent upgrades at skill positions."
For some, Myles Garrett swinging a helmet at Mason Rudolph highlighted another area in which Kitchens was falling short.
Stephen Holder @HolderStephen
Said this before about the Browns and will say it again now: Freddie Kitchens has failed to instill discipline in that team from Day 1. Anyone who was at the joint practices with the Colts back on training camp saw it first hand. This issue didn’t originate w last night’s game.
Kitchens didn't help himself by wearing a shirt that read "Pittsburgh started it" in reference to the incident.
The Steelers got the last laugh, winning 20-13 in Week 13.
Capping off the dysfunctional season, multiple reports emerged in December regarding players who were attempting to engineer their exits from Cleveland:
Michael Silver @MikeSilver
More fallout from the Jarvis Landry tirade during the Browns-Cardinals game: I'm told by two sources that before the game ended, 'multiple' Browns players yelled at the Arizona sideline to 'come get me'--asking to come play for the Cardinals. Landry, I'm told, was one of them.
This was the risk of hiring a first-time head coach and someone with only a half-season as a top coordinator. Kitchens wouldn't be afforded time to learn on the job as the Browns are firmly in win-now mode.
"The football decision-makers don't have a massive window with which to maximize the skill position talent on the roster or validate the high-risk trades they've made," Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr wrote after the Browns' Week 9 loss to the Denver Broncos. "They'll likely hurl a ton of money and draft capital at the offensive line situation this offseason and hope that they make a playoff run in 2020."
Firing Kitchens already doesn't reflect well on the front office and ownership, but one could argue sticking with him any longer would've done more damage to the team.
The Browns will now be on their 12th head coach—including full-time and interim coaches—since returning to the league in 1999.