Training Camp

Freddie Kitchens enters 1st training camp as Browns coach confident in himself, ready to lead

As he has for more than a decade, Freddie Kitchens returned to his place of employment Wednesday for the start of training camp.

He welcomed in familiar faces, from players to staffers and fellow coaches. He took part in an organization-wide, start-of-camp meeting. He wore a hat; one can always bank on Kitchens wearing a hat.

But there was one significant difference: Wednesday was Kitchens' first player report day as a head coach in the National Football League.

If you think he stopped to let that wash over him and soak in, you'd be wrong. It's evident Kitchens hasn't spent much time lately thinking about that detail at all, instead focusing on the task at hand: working toward becoming a winning football team.

"Until we do something, that's all we are is a bunch of good players," Kitchens said during a press conference Wednesday. "This is the only business in the world that you hire 90 guys to fire half of them. We're not the Browns yet. We're not the Cleveland Browns yet. We're a bunch of individuals trying to get jobs. But during the course of getting jobs, you see who's going to be able to come together and create the Cleveland Browns. And when we walk out on the field, we want everybody to be proud of the product that's out there."

The journey toward becoming the Browns begins, or perhaps resumes, with Thursday's first training camp practice. Wednesday was more like a first day of school for the players, and the first for Kitchens as principal. His superintendent, Browns general manager John Dorsey, sat alongside him when meeting with the local and national media. It's evident that the duo's communication and common goals have only strengthened since Dorsey made Kitchens the 17th full-time head coach in franchise history.

They want players who are tough, who love football and who are able to fight through the difficult moments. Football spares none when it comes to adversity, and Kitchens is prepared for its arrival. Now it's up to him to prepare his team for it.

"We'll take adversity as it comes but I'm looking forward to the first time we see adversity, because then and only then will we determine what kind of football team we are," Kitchens said. "You've got to face it, and you're going to face it and I don't know when it can be."

Is it tough talk? A first-year coach putting on a front to convince doubters he's capable of doing the job for a team with enough on-paper talent to draw predictions of a deep playoff run? And what about all of those personalities for the rookie head coach to manage?

The answer was clear in his conviction. No, it's not a front. And no, the ballyhooed "personalities" are not too much to manage, especially for this veteran-led locker room.

"I want all of our players to be themselves, because if you try to start being somebody you're not, you don't ever know who you are," Kitchens said.

That's perhaps the most important detail about this whole thing for Kitchens, who also thrives because he is -- surprise -- always himself.

Sometimes that involves Kitchens running someone a line of playful jabs -- no one in or around the building is exempt -- or turning the target on himself for some self-deprecation. He's witty with a southern drawl that endears him to nearly everyone. He remembers everyone's name and the most embarrassing thing that happened to them during their time with the Browns. His players joke with him. Behind a bunch of indecision and votes for Baker Mayfield, Kitchens was a secondary choice in a recent player survey that asked who was the biggest prankster on the team. He cares about his players and about the Browns franchise more than his demeanor lets on.

Part of it is comfort. He's in lockstep with Dorsey, who took a chance when he elevated Kitchens to head coach after he had only been an interim offensive coordinator for half of a season. The two have good balance when manning the press conference dais together as they did Wednesday for the third time since Kitchens became head coach. Dorsey and Kitchens publicly joke with each other, their football-focused personalities blending like the best batch of Rocky Road ice cream. They'll likely argue over who serves as the nuts, chuckling and grinning the whole time.

But Kitchens will also climb up a player's backside if he isn't performing up to the standard set by he and his experienced staff.

Check out the best photos of quarterback Baker Mayfield this offseason by team photographer Matt Starkey

That might be difficult to balance, being an affable coach but also one who has to enforce his authority at times to ensure goals are properly accomplished. The simple answer again might just be that he's being himself, or in his Bill Parcells type of response, "I don't care if they like me."

Dorsey had a better explanation that could convince doubters he's set up for long-term success, even if it might not be easy to envision on July 24, 2019.

"You know what he is? And I've seen this with my own eyes. He's consistent," Dorsey said of Kitchens. "Players trust him. It really takes a lot to trust players. But guess what? He also flips it on the other side and holds those players accountable, and I think that's damn important."

Consistency is the key to any successful individual or team, and it's what one receives when interacting with Kitchens, especially in his delivery of quirky sayings. He offered another gem Wednesday.

"I want them to understand how they get (to the Super Bowl). It's not by talking about it. It's not by predicting it. But I also don't want them to be scared to go get it. ... If you're not going to jump out of the airplane, don't put the parachute on. And I want people that'll put the parachute on."

Flights begin Thursday.

The annual Orange & Brown Scrimmage will take place on August 3rd at FirstEnergy Stadium.Click for information and tickets.

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