MOBILE, Alabama -- Make no mistake, it's been a good week for Freddie Kitchens back in his home state.
For about an hour at Tuesday's North practice, the Browns' new head coach spent some time with Clemson national championship coach Dabo Swinney, who was an assistant coach at Alabama during Kitchens' playing days. Next to them was Woody McCorvey, a longtime college coach whom Kitchens considers to be one of the most influential people in his professional life.
"I like to think we are pretty close," Kitchens said of Swinney. "I could not lie to him and tell him that I was pulling for him."
The flow of congratulatory messages hasn't shown any sign of ending. Instead of piling up in the form of texts and emails, they're happening in the flesh as hundreds of coaches, general managers, scouts and various other player personnel staffers from around the NFL converge here for the 2019 Senior Bowl.
Kitchens has loved every second of it, but he just can't get Monday out of his mind. That's when the real fun starts.
"I'm looking forward to us getting together as a complete staff for the first time because I know that begins the process of building what we're building and where we're going," Kitchens said on a rain-soaked Wednesday in Mobile that forced Senior Bowl officials to move practices to a small indoor facility on the campus of the University of South Alabama.
"At the end of the day I'm still a football coach and the part that's sunk in is I have to make sure everybody's there Monday to get started."
Kitchens made quick work in assembling the majority of coaches who will surround him at that Monday meeting. The staff features a diverse group of backgrounds, levels of experience and connections to Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey. It's a near-final product Kitchens takes pride in -- believing each member chose Cleveland over other potential landing spots for "the right reasons" -- and plans to empower as the Browns begin their player-by-player evaluations on a team that has very few pending free agents.
Kitchens called it a "crucial time" in the offseason, roughly a month and a half before the start of free agency and three months before Cleveland carries 10 picks into the 2019 NFL Draft.
"The only thing that has changed is I am evaluating defensive guys and offensive guys; receivers, tight ends, line, evaluating different positions," Kitchens said. "That's why I hired good people, where they can become experts in their area and I can lean on them. I understand the fact there are always going to be a couple things a day that comes by my desk that I did not expect when I woke up. You have to use your judgment to decide what to do.
"We have to judge our guys before we can do anything else. That is what we are going to get started first, then free agency, then the college draft and then get ready for minicamp, OTAs and it is right through the process."
Last year at this time, Kitchens didn't attend the Senior Bowl because he had just been hired as the Browns running backs coach. And though he wasn't as heavily involved in the free agency and draft collaboration as he'll be now as head coach, Kitchens was struck by how well Dorsey's group worked with the coaches and involved them throughout the process.
Not having to change a thing promises to make for a smooth transition into his elevated role within the process.
"I know you guys are probably getting tired of hearing that word but it is truly about collaboration," Kitchens said. "Coaches, personnel, ownership, everybody. Everybody is moving in the same direction and I do not see it being any different than last year."