While the Cleveland Browns came into yesterday’s game with plenty of attitude and then fell flat on their faces in the second half with little opportunity to recover, arguably their greatest embarrassment came well before the game started, when their head coach, Freddie Kitchens, donned a ‘Pittsburgh Started It’ shirt in public.
And the most embarrassing part about that is the fact that he at least sounded as though he was completely oblivious to why that was an issue after the game, saying that the shirt wasn’t the reason the Browns lost. That was never the point. The point was that it was stupid, in and of itself, to wear that shirt. Especially since Pittsburgh didn’t even start it. Nevermind the fact that it’s an infantile mindset in the first place.
The thing is, seeing Kitchens with that shirt did motivate the Pittsburgh Steelers. They said so themselves after the game, and is probably partly why they so brazenly donned ‘Free Pouncey’ shirts before the game, and made sure to get the suspended center the game ball.
“I thought it was pretty stupid”, Brooke Taylor of ESPN quoted David DeCastro as saying. “That’s a lot of bulletin-board material. I don’t know why you do that as a coach. I just don’t get that. Of course it’s going to motivate us. What are you thinking? It’s just not smart”.
That’s a starting offensive lineman directly saying that that stunt by Kitchens, inadvertent or not, served as extra motivation for the Steelers to take it to the Browns—which they proceeded to do. Jarvis Landry wore a ‘Revenge’ shirt before the game, but how were they even the once in need of vengeance in the first place? And Ramon Foster raised an important point as well.
“Why throw gas? When you do something like that, you throw your players in harm’s way”, the 11-year veteran said. “He’s not on the field. You throw your players in harm’s way when you do stuff like that with a vengeance. And I hate that for them”.
Again, whether he intended to or not, Kitchens wrote a check his team had to try to cash for him. That’s the exact opposite of what a head coach is supposed to do. I understand that he’s a rookie head coach and isn’t used to this sort of spotlight, but he’s going to have to learn pretty quickly how to handle himself.
So far, it doesn’t sound as though he has learned from this, as he literally said after the game, “I’d wear it again”. He said that the shirt isn’t why his team gave up 40-yard passes, and that they were ready to play. Again, not the point.
Quite frankly, it’s almost difficult to resist the urge to use this incident as a microcosm for everything that’s personified the Browns’ repeated generational failures from head coach to head coach. Kitchens knows that he is presiding over one of the most undisciplined teams in the entire league.
Instead, he joins in with his players in their insular worldview, taking on the persona of the victim, the martyr, donning a novelty t-shirt. When Mike Tomlin wears some short of t-shirt, it’s about supporting Ryan Shazier or James Conner and cancer survivors and things like that. Kitchens’ shirt said that hitting a person over the head with a helmet is less bad because ‘he started it’.
And now they’re finished. And maybe Kitchens will be, too, at the end of this season.