INDIANAPOLIS — Bruce Arians has kept track of all the times he hoped to interview for the head coaching job of the Browns, only to be ignored by the organization.
It happened again recently.
"That's about five times," Arians quipped Wednesday during the NFL Scouting Combine at the Indiana Convention Center.
Despite Arians telling the Canton Repository and GateHouse Media Ohio in November that "Cleveland is the only job I would consider," the Browns never spoke to him about coming out of retirement to fill their vacancy.
Instead, they hired Freddie Kitchens, their offensive coordinator for the final eight games of the 2018 season and a former pupil of Arians. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Arians as their new coach a few days before the Browns finalized their deal with Kitchens.
It's well known the Browns didn't interview Arians during their latest coaching search, but he revealed they didn't even speak to him informally about the opening.
"I never had a conversation with the Browns at all," said Arians, who went 49-30-1, plus 1-2 in the playoffs, as coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2013-17. "That [quote about only considering the Cleveland job] got blown out of proportion a little bit. I repeated it later, but I was pushing [former Indianapolis Colts coach] Chuck Pagano for the job when I said that. But I love Cleveland, love the fans. When I talked about that job, I was talking about the fans."
Many of those fans love Kitchens.
Kitchens spent his final season as a University of Alabama quarterback with Arians serving as his offensive coordinator. Then Kitchens worked as an assistant coach under Arians for five seasons with the Cardinals.
When they were on the same staff, Arians thought Kitchens had what it took to become a head coach.
"No doubt. He's a leader. He's tough as nails. He's one of the toughest players I ever coached in college, and he's paid his dues," said Arians, the offensive coordinator of the Browns from 2001-03. "He's more than ready, and what he did last year I think proved how he can handle offense. And I think his personality will fit Cleveland perfectly."
Arians isn't the only one who understands why the Browns are excited about Kitchens.
"Freddie is not only extremely knowledgeable, but he's got a certain way that he connects with players, and he makes it fun as well, which I love about Freddie," Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said. "He makes the process, every day, fun. It's hard enough to win at this level and to go through the daily grind, but to do it with somebody who has got passion like Freddie does and has such a love for the game, to me, certainly is extremely valuable, and I think the Cleveland Browns are going to continue to ascend under Freddie."
The Browns would like to re-sign wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who resurrected his NFL career with them last season by catching 16 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games. The former first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13.
"Breshad’s a good football player," Kitchens said. "Breshad had more success with us than he has had with anybody else, so, of course, we’ve got plans for Breshad moving forward, and hopefully we get him back."
Even if Perriman signs elsewhere, a reunion with the Ravens does not appear to be in the cards. They cut him in September after his three seasons in Baltimore were plagued by injuries and dropped passes. He signed with the Browns on Oct. 13.
"I think it’s better for Breshad right now that he kind of explores all the other options," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "As a guy and a player, you’d never mind having him back. There was nothing wrong with Breshad Perriman for us. He worked hard. He did everything he could to be the best he could be. The timing wasn’t right. He had a lot of injuries, and it just never fell in place for whatever reason.
"To see him go to Cleveland and see the things he did there made me happy as a coach. I was proud of him. I didn’t want to defend him. Didn’t want to see him score touchdowns against us, which he did. That’s tough, but I’m proud of him. He’s a great young man, and he’s going to be a good player in this league."
Two receivers who are better than good and have been the subjects of trade-related headlines are Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants.
The Steelers are willing to trade Brown, per his request, but is dealing the seven-time Pro Bowl selection to another AFC North team off the table?
"Ideally, you want to trade him to somebody you'll never play," Steelers GM Kevin Colbert replied. "You can't do that because if you're good enough to get to the Super Bowl, you'd have to play him anyway. The less you would play him, the better, but if a team comes through with the best compensation, we have to balance that out [and say], 'OK, we have to play him twice a year, but we're going to get the best compensation.' So it’s our job to do a better job with the compensation. You have to weigh that all into the discussions. We haven’t eliminated anybody [as a trade partner]."
As for Beckham, Giants GM Dave Gettleman pointed to the five-year, $95 million contract extension the three-time Pro Bowler signed as evidence the team doesn't plan to deal him.
"We didn't sign Odell to trade him," Gettlemen said. "OK? So I know that's all over the place [in the media]. So understand that. That's all I need to say about that."
Kitchens insisted he doesn't need a headliner to start at the X receiver position.
"No, I don’t need a big-name, star-type anything to power anything," Kitchens said. "We need somebody that’s a good football player, that it’s important to him to be a good football player, and in every aspect of his life and his career, in all areas, it’s important for him to succeed, and that’s how you get a better team."
What does the signing of Kareem Hunt mean for fellow running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson, assuming Hunt will eventually be available to play after serving an impending NFL suspension?
"We like competitive situations, and, of course, that'll be a competitive situation," Kitchens said. "Nick Chubb's not going to back down from any kind of competitive situation. That's why Nick Chubb's a great football player and a great Cleveland Brown."
After the Browns signed Hunt, Browns GM John Dorsey said Johnson isn't expendable "yet."
Kitchens said he hasn't felt the need to talk to Johnson about the ominous comment.
"We’re always looking for good football players, and Duke’s a good football player," Kitchens said. "We can’t ever have enough good football players."
Asked if Johnson will switch from running back to receiver, Kitchens said, "No, I think Duke’s a running back. That’s the position he’s in right now."
QB pecking order
Kitchens said he would be comfortable with Drew Stanton serving as the No. 2 quarterback behind starter Baker Mayfield, but the Browns could also add someone else to become the primary backup.
Last season, Tyrod Taylor was the No. 2 QB after Mayfield entered the starting lineup in the fourth game. Stanton was third on the depth chart. Taylor is expected to leave as a free agent.
"[Stanton's] last 16 games that he started in the National Football League now, he’s [11-5], so we feel like Drew can play," Kitchens said. "Drew’s not there to be a secular coach or whatever. Drew can play, so if there’s somebody out there that betters our football team, I’m sure that’s what John [Dorsey] and his staff and the coaches will do."
Kitchens praised Browns left tackle Greg Robinson, who signed a one-year contract extension Monday worth a maximum of $9 million, for giving the offensive line a major boost in the final eight games of last season.
"We need players like Greg Robinson to get to where we want to go," Kitchens said.
The Browns will have their five starting offensive linemen returning.
Kitchens said the situation provides comfort, "but, of course, we like adding competition, too, to see. Competition brings out the best in everybody, and if it doesn’t bring out the best, you’ve got a different set of problems."
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.