Freddie Kitchens’ contract as the new head coach of the Browns has yet to be finalized, but he’s still moving full speed ahead to assemble a staff.
Former Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks interviewed Friday at Browns headquarters in Berea, and NFL Network reported the two sides were working on a deal Friday night to make Wilks the defensive coordinator. In another major development, Mike Priefer told NFL Network he agreed to join the Browns as their special teams coordinator.
The defensive coordinator hire is the top priority of the Browns because Kitchens will likely call the offense’s plays.
Wilks and General Manager John Dorsey could be seen walking together down a hallway in the Browns’ training facility on the livestream of “Cleveland Browns Daily,” the team’s in-house radio show. Apparently the interview went well.
The Cardinals recently fired Wilks after he went 3-13 in his lone season as their head coach and hired former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury as his successor.
On Friday, Kingsbury and the Cardinals secured their defensive coordinator by hiring former Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who had been scheduled to interview with the Browns for their DC job. Kitchens also had reportedly shown interest in former New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and former Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano as DC candidates. The Bears hired Pagano to be their DC on Friday.
Wilks, 49, was a defensive backs coach for Washington, the Bears, the Los Angeles Chargers (then in San Diego) and Carolina before the Panthers gave him his first shot as an NFL defensive coordinator in 2017.
Wilks used a 4-3 base scheme, which is what the Browns employed the past two seasons under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and the Panthers ranked seventh in the NFL in yards allowed (317.1) per game and tied for 10th in points surrendered (20.4) a game.
NFL Network reported Williams, who went 5-3 as the interim coach of the Browns in the final half of the 2018 regular season, has begun talks with the New York Jets to become their new defensive coordinator. Under Williams’ guidance, the Browns ranked 30th in yards allowed (393) and 21st in points allowed (24.5) per game last year.
As for Priefer, he’ll replace Amos Jones, whose special teams units struggled mightily in his lone season with the Browns.
Priefer had been the special teams coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings since 2011. He said they offered him a contract, and the Lions and Atlanta Falcons interviewed him, according to the network, but he chose the Browns.
In ProFootballFocus.com’s final 2018 special teams rankings, the Browns were 32nd out of 32 teams. The Vikings were fourth.
“I had an unforgettable eight seasons working for the Minnesota Vikings,” Priefer wrote in a statement to NFL Network. “We were an extremely successful team all around and I loved being a part of the franchise’s growth. My contract with the Vikings expired after this season and when the Vikings asked to re-sign me, I decided to humbly decline and have taken a new job with the Cleveland Browns.
“I am excited to work with Coach Kitchens, John Dorsey and the entire Browns organization. I will always remember my time spent with the Vikings and deeply appreciate everyone that I was able to work with during my time there. I want to thank the Wilf family, Coach [Mike] Zimmer and [GM] Rick Spielman for everything.”
Born in Cleveland, Priefer is the son of longtime NFL special teams coach Chuck Priefer, who coached Dorsey when he was a Green Bay Packers linebacker in 1985. The younger Priefer, 52, has been a special teams coordinator for three NFL teams: the Vikings (2011-18), Broncos (2009-10) and Kansas City Chiefs (2006-08).
He lasted eight seasons in Minnesota despite being at the center of a controversy. The Vikings suspended him for three games in 2014 after their investigation of claims by former punter Chris Kluwe showed the coach made a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. They reduced the suspension to two games after Priefer completed anti-harassment, diversity and sexual orientation training.
Kitchens is also seeking an offensive coordinator. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers OC Todd Monken and former Detroit Lions OC Jim Bob Cooter are reportedly slated to interview with the Browns.
The Browns had reportedly requested permission to interview Jets running backs coach Stump Mitchell, but, per SiriusXM NFL Radio, he’ll return to Arizona, where he previously worked with Kitchens.