BEREA — Freddie Kitchens apparently decided it was time to take control of a debate he feels is much ado about nothing.
The new Browns coach is partially to blame. He brought up winning a championship in his introductory news conference Jan. 14. So it didn’t seem like a stretch when second-round draft pick Greedy Williams mentioned the Super Bowl three times, including a vow to win it this year, during his Friday night conference call and fifth-rounder Mack Wilson followed suit hours later, albeit without a guarantee.
But with expectations soaring and concern rampant over the absence of newly acquired star Odell Beckham Jr. from the voluntary offseason program, Kitchens talked tough in his NFL Draft wrap-up news conference Saturday. For the most part, he put aside his folksy charm and sent a message to his players and to those who are dissecting every detail of the biggest offseason in Browns’ history.
He stood up for Beckham and tamped down the euphoria over a team that has reached the playoffs just once in its 20 years as an expansion franchise.
“Everybody at this time of year wants to talk about the roster and crown somebody,” Kitchens said. “All this is good, but this is not going to win us any games. This is not even going to win us a quarter. It’s not going to do anything for us but set us up for failure if we don’t have our head on straight and we’re ready to play football because the games are going to be won and lost in September.
“All this other stuff is fluff, all right? It’s just things for people to talk about in April and May, all right? You’re going to have a different narrative come September. That’s when we want to control the narrative, not in April and May.”
Kitchens said Alabama linebacker Wilson and LSU cornerback Williams — who said, “I feel like this team will be the Super Bowl champs this year” — were not repeating anything he told them on the phone. Kitchens sounded concerned that the roster upgrades made around quarterback Baker Mayfield will go to his players’ heads and affect their preparation in OTAs, minicamps and training camp.
“It’s fine to have that as your dream and that as your goal, as long as you don’t let that be your master,” Kitchens said of the Super Bowl. “You have to let the process of getting there be your master, and that’s where you have to focus. But we’ll get ‘em right when they get here. And we don’t want to talk about it, either. We want to do our talking on how we prepare and how we work.”
Kitchens was at his most vehement when asked about Beckham’s absence affecting relationship-building with coaches and teammates.
“I understand that you guys are trying to define and draw lines in the sand between coaches and players and players and players and that ain’t gonna happen anymore,” Kitchens said. “There’s no problem with Odell not being here. I’d rather him be here. He’s not here. It’s voluntary. That’s what the word voluntary means …
“Under no circumstance am I going to say that I’m pissed off at Odell for not being here. … Ultimately, that’s the only thing I want, for him to be ready to play when we start kicking off in September. And he will be, I promise you.”
Kitchens has never been a head coach at any level. While the Browns’ talent makes it seem like a dream job, Kitchens will have to manage the egos of highly competitive offensive players who might clamor for the ball. So while his “draw lines in the sand” comment sounded directed at the media, there could have been an underlying “put the team first” layer to it meant for his players.
Not long after, Kitchens appeared on ESPN and the shoot-from-the-hip, fun-loving Freddie was back.
Wrapping up, Trey Wingo warned the former University of Alabama quarterback about adding any more LSU players to a roster that now includes Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Williams.
“If they’d a played a little better in high school they could have went to Alabama,” Kitchens said.
That drew guffaws, but didn’t overshadow Kitchens’ earlier comments. Kitchens wants to instill toughness in his team and he’d just given the first glimpse of how he plans to do it.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.