Cleveland — The Browns didn’t have to go far to find their new coach.
Freddie Kitchens was already in the building.
The 44-year-old Kitchens, who had a dazzling eight-week run as the team’s interim offensive coordinator, is finalizing a contract to become Cleveland’s ninth coach since the franchise’s 1999 rebirth, a person familiar with the decision told the Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team is not commenting on the imminent hire.
ESPN was first to announce the decision.
Also, Gregg Williams, who went 5-3 as Cleveland’s interim coach and defensive coordinator this season, is no longer with the team, the person said. Williams was the first candidate to interview for the coaching vacancy.
Kitchens has no previous head coaching experience, but his work with Cleveland’s offense – most notably quarterback Baker Mayfield – in the season’s second half vaulted him ahead of the other six candidates interviewed by the Browns, who were looking for the right coach to lead them following a stunning turnaround season.
Kitchens will get the chance.
Under his leadership, Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, threw 19 of his NFL rookie record 27 touchdown passes while erasing any doubt that he could be the coveted franchise quarterback that has eluded the Browns for decades.
Kitchens and Mayfield formed a strong relationship during their time together, and Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam along with general manager John Dorsey are counting on the pair taking Cleveland to new heights.
It’s a spectacular rise for Kitchens, who began the season as the team’s running backs coach. He took over the Browns offense when coordinator Todd Haley was fired an hour after coach Hue Jackson’s dismissal on Oct. 29 and Kitchens quickly showed he had coaching chops.
He revamped the offensive scheme, using multiple formations and tweaking the game plan to include calls that he knew his players were comfortable running.
Kitchens, who was a three-year starting quarterback at Alabama, wasn’t afraid to be creative as he used wide receiver Jarvis Landry on running plays and to throw passes, and he got major production from rookie running back Nick Chubb, left tackle Greg Robinson and receiver Breshad Perriman – three players under-utilized by Jackson and Haley.
Broncos pick Fangio
Forget RPOs. John Elway is going with AARP.
The Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, 60, has accepted Elway’s offer to become the Denver Broncos’ next head coach, a person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Broncos didn’t announce the hiring, something the team won’t do until Fangio signs his contract. He’s expected to be introduced as the club’s 17th head coach on Thursday.
Fangio replaces Vance Joseph, who was fired on New Year’s Eve after posting the franchise’s first back-to-back losing seasons since the early 1970s.
Fangio and Elway, who turns 59 this summer, will make up one of the oldest coach-GM duos in the NFL in 2019.
Although Fangio, who turns 61 in August, has no NFL head coaching experience, he has been an assistant for 32 years in the NFL and 34 seasons overall, beginning with the Philadelphia Stars of the old USFL in 1984.
“You’re talking about one of the best coaches in football,” Bears star edge rusher Khalil Mack said recently, dubbing Fangio “the evil genius himself.”
Reid drug tested ‘normal’
The NFL and the NFL Players Association say outspoken Eric Reid was not singled out with excessive drug tests.
The joint statement released Wednesday said an independent administrator found Reid received the “normal” number of drug tests this season. The statement said, “there is no evidence of targeting or any other impropriety with respect to his selection for testing.”
The Panthers’ safety has said he believes he was repeatedly tested because of his pending lawsuit against the league because of his decision to kneel alongside former 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem to protest racial and social injustice.
Brandon Mebane is likely to play for the Los Angeles Chargers this week following the death of his 7-week old daughter.
Makenna Mebane died on Jan. 3. She was born on Nov. 12 with a defective heart condition. The Chargers defensive end was in Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife, Amena, and other two children, 4-year-old Mahailey and 2-year-old Makai, for most of the past two months while Makenna received treatment for a stomach infection.
... The Vikings have appointed Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator, after his interim stint over the last three games of the season. Stefanski is the son of Pistons senior advisor Ed Stefanski.
... The Titans have hired Frank Piraino away from Boston College as their new strength and conditioning coach.