CLEVELAND — It was no act when new coach Freddie Kitchens called the Browns owners “Mr. Jimmy and Miss Dee,” although the Gadsden, Ala., native got so tongue-tied at one point that he called them “Mr. Dee and Mrs. Haslam.”

If he’d had his way, Kitchens would have worn the bright orange Dawg Pound hoodie that fans and his daughters are smitten with to his formal introduction Monday at FirstEnergy Stadium, but that was nixed by Senior Vice President of Communications Peter John-Baptiste. The Browns’ helmet cap was nearly a victim as well, but after being prompted to wear a sport coat and tie, Kitchens prevailed on the headgear.

When it comes to his attire and demeanor, Kitchens, 44, acknowledged that he is not very “head coach-ish.” He mused that his dialect or the fact that he’s not a self-promoter might have stood in his way of rising to an NFL top job after 12 seasons as an assistant. He said he was not the popular choice, but that may not be the case for long if the former University of Alabama quarterback proves deserving of his rapid rise.

He’s not even fond of the narrative that he came from out of nowhere to earn the Browns job.

“All I have heard and in reading the internet is ‘Running back coach to head coach in the course of a year.’ Well, that is not the case,” Kitchens said. “I have been a quarterback coach more than I have been a running back coach. I have been a tight end coach more than I have been a quarterback coach, or actually, it is about equal, I think. You have to let me know on that one. But everything I have done is to continue to try and get better.”

Not since the days of Sam Rutigliano have the Browns had a coach as authentic and down-to-earth as Kitchens. And as relatable and important as Rutigliano was, especially in the creation of the Inner Circle to privately deal with player addictions, his lines like “stomping the grapes and drinking the wine” sometimes felt rehearsed.

There doesn’t seem to be a rehearsed bone in Kitchens’ body, save for plays like the Jarvis Landry pass that the Browns drilled on for weeks before using it in the final home victory over the Bengals. Even then, Kitchens called what turned into a 63-yard catch by Breshad Perriman when it had not succeeded in practice.

Kitchens confided he watched the Browns on television growing up — “On Sundays, you had to do something other than go to church and eat a lot,” he said — and liked their uniforms.

“I love the helmet. I like the simplicity of the helmet. Hopefully, we do not ever change that,” he said, drawing laughter. “I went to Alabama. We did not change helmets at Alabama. I am a traditionalist.”

 

Open book 

No subject seems to be off limits when it comes to Kitchens, and many of his stories seem to carry a message.

Asked the best lesson he took from his father, a tire maker at Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Gadsden for 20 years, he said, “The ability to work. He was laid off or on strike more than he worked. To see the resolve and the resiliency of going out and finding work, that’s tough.

“What we do is not tough. What we do is coach football for a living and get paid well at doing it. What these kids do is they play football for a living and they get paid well doing it. Single parents out there providing for their children, knowing that they have to go out and work two or three jobs? That’s tough, all right?”

Kitchens said his father became an electrician and licensed plumber so he could support his family as a handyman while laid off.

Those who weren’t aware that Kitchens had an aortic dissection in 2013 know now after he mentioned it repeatedly. When he met a member of the media named Freddie, he was delighted he also spelled it with an “ie.”

After using the word facetious, Kitchens remarked: “Would you have ever thought that I would use the word facetious? Secondly, facetious is one of two words in the English language that every vowel is in order and it contains every vowel.” Asked the other one, he said, “I can’t tell you that.”

Thanks to Kitchens, Clete Diener, the coordinator of stadium operations, will soon be as much of a Northeast Ohio cult figure as the homeless man who told Jimmy Haslam to draft Johnny Manziel.

“I understand where Clete lives, I know how many kids he's got,” Kitchens said of the man usually seated on a golf cart at the valet parking entrance inside the stadium. “You know how I found that out? I talked to him and I asked him. I'm invested in people. That's how you start building relationships.”

 

Love of football

It wasn’t until he was 23 or 24 years old, his Alabama career over, that Kitchens realized how much he needed football. He was selling cars at Magnolia Nissan BMW in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and washing FedEx trucks on the weekend, “making more money than I have ever made.”

“Alabama would be playing, there were no televisions in the wash bay, so I would listen to it on the radio,” Kitchens said. “It almost brought me to tears listening to it. I do not know that I ever wanted to coach, but I knew that I never, I couldn’t live without the game of football.”

Kitchens is a Dawg Pound hoodie marketer’s dream, a T-shirt designer’s dream. His news conference was filled with memorable lines like, “Sometimes you have to realize that there’s hard days, they’re not bad days.”

But that’s not to trivialize the man and his relationships — some already fostered — that can help achieve Kitchens’ unabashedly stated goal of lifting the Lombardi Trophy. Whether or not Kitchens possesses the ingredient that has been missing in the Browns’ Super Bowl quest, “Mr. Dee and Mrs. Haslam” found a special leader to whom all can connect.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.