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The Browns’ new coaching staff is looking pretty good. Pretty, prettttty, pret-ttttay good.

Adding Todd Monken and Steve Wilks gives Freddie Kitchens some experienced staffers to lean on.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Freddie Kitchens only has eight games of experience as a coordinator in either the college or pro ranks. So when he earned the chance to take the reins as the Browns’ 11th head coach in the past 20 years, he made sure to surround himself with experienced talent in the latest effort to rebuild the league’s most snakebitten franchise.

And he’s done a pretty great job with it.

Kitchens, simultaneously an off-the-radar hire and a man who can stay the course of Cleveland’s late-season success, has helped assemble a coaching staff capable of filling the gaps on his resume with NFL experience. He’s loaded his top assistant positions with respected hands who can help quiet the doubts that come with interactions like this:

Proud papa Kitchens has drafted up a supporting cast of caretakers to assuage concerns across Cleveland. His two top coordinators bring experience and an aggressive style who won’t just elevate the Browns, but also make them one of the most exciting teams to watch. Here’s why.

Todd Monken has the chops to make Baker Mayfield even better

Monken’s background as an Air Raid-style offensive coordinator should have earned him plenty of head coaching consideration in a league that just promoted Kliff Kingsbury from 35-40 Texas Tech coach to the Arizona Cardinals’ top guy. Instead, he was swept out with deposed Tampa head coach Dirk Koetter, fielded a couple interviews with no real significant interest, and was left with OC offers across the league.

He landed in Cleveland, where he’ll have the chance to use the Browns as a stepping stone to a potential job top in 2020 — and that’s a good thing.

Monken will upgrade from juggling Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick to engineering a game plan for 2018 offensive rookie of the year frontrunner Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. And if he can translate any of his success in Tampa, it should lead to big gains for the second-year quarterback. Monken oversaw the league’s third-most prolific offense last fall — the Buccaneers averaged 415.5 yards per game — despite having no reliable running game whatsoever.

Monken won’t be calling the plays for the Browns — that duty will remain with Kitchens, whose spread-the-wealth philosophy elevated Mayfield’s game to new heights over the last half of the season. That’s similar to the role he filled in Tampa under Koetter, who also called plays for the Bucs. He’ll still be a trusted consigliere for the man who earned his spin on Cleveland’s coaching carousel thanks to his proven success in northeastern Ohio.

Baker Mayfield before and after Freddie Kitchens took over as OC

Baker Mayfield Games Cmp% Yds/Gm TD/Gm Int/Gm QB Rating Sk/GM Yds/Att Browns PPG
Baker Mayfield Games Cmp% Yds/Gm TD/Gm Int/Gm QB Rating Sk/GM Yds/Att Browns PPG
Under Haley 6 58.3 245.2 1.3 1 78.9 3.3 6.6 21.7
Under Kitchens 8 68.44 281.8 2.4 1 106.2 0.6 8.57 23.8

That Kitchens-Monken pairing has general manager John Dorsey — the guy who turned the picks former GM Sashi Brown accumulated into a cache of dynamic young players — excited about his team’s future.

“Todd is very creative with a lot of his offensive package stuff,” said Dorsey after the team announced its suite of coaching hires. “I would love to sit in that meeting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, just watch them install a game plan ‘cause they’re both very creative.”

But if the Browns can’t outrun opponents in a collection of 2019 boat races, they’ll have a shot at dragged opponents into the mud and beating them in low-scoring slopfests, too.

Steve Wilks is going to blitz the hell out of the Browns’ young core

First thing first: Wilks’ run as the Cardinals’ head coach was a disaster. He had nothing to offer rookie quarterback Josh Rosen in his first season as a pro, his offense was unwatchable, and the team was so bad it had All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson searching for an exit in the run-up to the trade deadline.

Wilks wasn’t able to turn a defense that included Peterson, Chandler Jones, and the rest of a depleted roster into a top squad. His Cardinals were great at stopping big plays and awful at pretty much everything else:

But Wilks is still the respected defensive mind that earned a shot at Arizona’s top job in the first place. He rose through the ranks in the NFL after a decade-plus in the NCAA, building and eventually commanding the Panthers’ defense in 2017 — a resurgent year for a franchise that typically alternates good seasons with terrible ones. Wilks’ ability to bring consistent quarterback pressure through a variety of blitz packages is a sought-after commodity in a league that’s leaning more and more on its passing game.

That’s an area where his Cardinals actually thrived, ranking third in the league in sack rate on blitz downs (12.8%). His 2017 Panthers defense ranked third in the NFL when it came to overall sack rate as well. Those numbers aren’t part of a small sample size, either; Wilks dialed up blitzes on more than 51% of his plays over the past two years.

With Myles Garrett providing pressure on the edge and Larry Ogunjobi crumpling pockets from the inside out, Wilks will have a solid, young base from which to work. Expect the Browns to be more aggressive on defense than they were in 2018 — and expect another All-Pro season from Garrett as a result.

The rest of the assistants are pretty good, too!

Cleveland pried Stump Mitchell from the Jets to serve as the team’s running backs coach. He’d previously served the same role in New York, with uneven returns. While he was able to turn former Brown Isaiah Crowell into a dangerous, dynamic back, the Jets were predictably ineffective on the ground in his two seasons with Todd Bowles. Hiring the former NFL back reunites him with Kitchens; the pair served on the same staff under Bruce Arians with the Cardinals from 2013 to 2016.

He’ll replace Ryan Lindley, who moves from RBs coach to quarterbacks coach. This move makes lots of sense, but mostly because Lindley had seven career rushing yards and 1,372 passing yards in four seasons as an NFL QB. Lindley’s resume is thin — he spent the two seasons before taking the Browns’ job in 2018 as a San Diego State graduate assistant — but he helped hone Cleveland’s tailbacks into a group that had much more of an impact in the passing game as the season wore on.

Tyler Tettleton, who spent two years as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma while Mayfield was slinging touchdown passes and winning a Heisman Trophy, is an offensive quality control coach. Former Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer, who previously served a multiple-game suspension in Minnesota for making homophobic remarks, will hold the same title in Cleveland.


Kitchens’ staff has a handful of young(ish) rising assistants, but it’s mostly filled with veteran coordinators and position coaches who can provide a powerful cantilever to support the head coach’s lack of top-level experience. Guys like Monken and Tettleton are there to take Mayfield’s meteoric development in 2018 and add an extra gear to his top speed. Wilks will have the chance to rebuild his reputation after one failed season in Arizona by commanding one of the league’s most talented young defenses — even if that unit hasn’t figured out how to turn potential into performance.

And that’s great, because for all Kitchens’ on-field success to close out 2018, he absolutely need an experienced support staff to smooth off some of the rougher edges that will alienate some fans and make others absolutely ...

love ...

him.

Hiring Monken and Wilks isn’t just a hedge; it’s good business. Kitchens has a talented, proven pairing at his coordinator positions, and that’s got the Browns in position for their first playoff berth since 2002. Or, in other words, for the Browns to stop being the Browns — at least for the foreseeable future.