Freddie Kitchens knew Steve Wilks for years even before the two formally met.
"He was on the staff in Carolina, and it seemed like in Arizona when we were rolling pretty well we would always end up playing them, whether it was in 2015, 2014, always when we were in the playoffs we would play them," said Kitchens, who was a longtime assistant with the Cardinals before joining the Browns in 2017. "They always had good game plans against us."
Wilks was in his third season as defensive backs coach with the Panthers when the Cardinals, down to their third-string quarterback, Ryan Lindley -- who now is coincidentally the Browns' quarterbacks coach -- fell to Carolina, 27-16, in the Wild Card round. One year later, Wilks was the assistant head coach and defensive backs coach when the Panthers trucked Arizona, 49-15, in the NFC Championship.
In his one season as defensive coordinator of the Panthers, Wilks' group ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense, 18th in pass defense, third in rush defense and 11th in scoring defense. And though Arizona, where Wilks was head coach last season, finished with the NFL's worst record, the team's defense ranked fourth in the league against the pass.
The past meetings with Kitchens and recent defensive success were conversation starters, for sure, but Kitchens' decision to hire Wilks as his defensive coordinator was about Wilks, the person, and how he fits with what the Browns are looking to accomplish in 2019.
"More importantly, I think he is a good person," Kitchens said. "He gets his kids to play hard. He is very detailed.
"At the end of the day, he wanted to be in Cleveland for the right reasons. We tried to generate the staff from that standpoint more than anything else, where we wanted people who wanted to be there, to be hooked up for all of the reasons that we are there. He is there."
It certainly doesn't hurt that Wilks will maintain the team's 4-3 base defense, which has been in place since the 2017 season.
The Browns' roster has turned over as much as any team in the league over the past two seasons. Just this past year, Cleveland had turnover of 60 percent from the previous season by the first regular season game. Of Cleveland's regular defensive starters, only a handful were around to play in the team's 3-4 base.
General manager John Dorsey and Kitchens, though, merely viewed that aspect of the Wilks' hire to be a perk.
"I think you want the best qualified player if there's some flexibility," Dorsey said. "It's hard to make that transition if you're a 3-4. I mean that's hard because your roster is set up for 4-3 defensive scheme. It makes it a little bit easier, but the experience Steve gives, I think he's a really well qualified coach."
The idea and importance of a "base" defense, of course, has decreased in significance in recent years with the league evolving so heavily in favor of the pass. The Browns, like most NFL teams, deployed at least three cornerbacks throughout the majority of last season, and it'd be surprising to see much different in 2019 and beyond.
That's why a hire of the importance of defensive coordinator went well beyond the X's and O's. Wilks just provided the best, total package.
"We have some good players in the 4-3 type of system," Kitchens said. "At the end of the day, 4-3, 3-4 – 70 percent of the game is played in the sub (package) defense where you are always going to look like a four-down team. At the end of the day, we wanted to get the best coach that we thought would fit us as a staff, not necessarily the personnel."