Freddie Kitchens escaped death in 2013 and has strived to live life to its fullest ever since.
On Monday, he moved one step closer to fulfilling a dream when he interviewed for the head coaching job of the Browns at their headquarters in Berea.
His goal has always been to become an NFL head coach.
"Definitely. No doubt," Kitchens, who spent the final eight games of the 2018 season establishing a reputation as the red-hot offensive coordinator of the Browns, said last month during a news conference.
General Manager John Dorsey and the team's search committee began interviewing candidates a week ago and so far have met with Kitchens, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, New Orleans Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, former Detroit Lions and Colts coach Jim Caldwell, and Browns interim coach Gregg Williams.
ESPN.com reported the Browns talked with either former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy or his representatives Monday, but things are on hold between the two sides as the Browns have discussions with other candidates. Meanwhile, he's very much in play for the New York Jets, according to the website, which had previously reported the Browns would interview McCarthy this week.
NFL Network reported last week the Browns requested permission to interview Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, but that meeting hasn't happened yet, either.
Kitchens not only stands out on the list of candidates because of his recent ascent, but also because of the health scare he overcame as an Arizona Cardinals assistant coach.
In an open letter published on Christmas Day by Sports Illustrated's MMQB website, Kitchens described the harrowing experience.
"In June of 2013, I suffered an aortic dissection (a hereditary issue that causes the aorta to split and my blood to run between the walls of my aorta instead of the natural path)," he wrote. "Facing long odds of survival, I realized how much I meant to the people around me. It is amazing how people let you know how much you mean to them when they think you are possibly going to die.
"After emergency surgery, during the two months of rehab when I was at home and trying to get back to training camp, there were two things that made me the most thankful man in the world. Besides my gratitude for surviving, I am still most thankful for those two things. The first thing is the quality time my wife and I were able to spend together during the healing process. Our time together was priceless because she was with me every step of the way and helped me make a full recovery. The second thing is having the 'What if I had died?' thoughts.
"One would think I would have regrets of the things I did wrong earlier in my life (and there were plenty of those). However, the main regrets were the things that I never did or never said. After surviving and making a full recovery, I decided to always let the people around me know what they mean to me."
Kitchens, 44, has come to mean a lot to Browns fans, and the feeling is mutual.
"I like it here a lot, and everybody around here knows that I like it here," Kitchens said last month. "I love the town of Cleveland. Cleveland and I get along well."
There has been plenty of love for Kitchens since he jump-started rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and the entire offense.
The Browns promoted Kitchens from running backs coach/associate head coach to offensive coordinator and Williams from defensive coordinator to interim coach on Oct. 29, the same day they fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
At the time, they were 2-5-1 and, with Haley calling the plays, averaging 21.1 points and 342.4 yards per game. In the second half of the season, they went 5-3 and averaged 23.8 points and 395.1 yards per game with Kitchens in charge of the offense.
Browns players praised Kitchens for his creativity and collaboration.
"We talk about Baker being a guy that everybody in the locker room relates to. Freddie's kind of that guy, too," left guard and captain Joel Bitonio said Dec. 31. "He’s been around the block, even though he’s not too old, and he’s a fun personality to be around. I think if he was put in that [head coach] position, I think the players would rally around him."
Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam appointed Kitchens to his new position, and the Browns have denied him permission to interview with other teams for offensive coordinator gigs because even if they don't hire him as their ninth full-time head coach since 1999, they want to leave the door open for his return as the offense's play caller.
A former University of Alabama quarterback, Kitchens joined the Browns last offseason after spending 11 seasons coaching tight ends, quarterbacks and running backs for the Cardinals. He entered the NFL in 2006 as the tight ends coach of the Dallas Cowboys, who employed Haley at the same time. He spent the previous seven seasons as a college assistant at Mississippi State, North Texas, Louisiana State and Glenville State.
If Kitchens is retained as offensive coordinator or becomes head coach of the Browns, running backs coach Ryan Lindley could receive a more prominent role. Kitchens hired Lindley, a former NFL quarterback, when he was promoted in October.
Former Browns 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2019 Class.
As a senior in 2006, Thomas became the first Wisconsin player to win the Outland Trophy and the first Badgers offensive lineman in seven years to earn Associated Press All-America first-team honors.
The Browns signed offensive lineman David Bright and defensive back Ashton Lampkin to the reserve/futures list. Bright missed the 2018 season while rehabilitating from an injury, and Lampkin spent the final three weeks of the season on the Browns' practice squad.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.