Position switch has been smooth for Cardinals assistant Kitchens

Jun 2, 2017, 6:15 PM

Linebacker Karlos Dansby chats with assistant coach Freddie Kitchens during Arizona Cardinals OTAs ...

Linebacker Karlos Dansby chats with assistant coach Freddie Kitchens during Arizona Cardinals OTAs in Tempe, May 24, 2017. (Photo: Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

(Photo: Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — You may have raised an eyebrow in January when it was announced that Freddie Kitchens would be replacing Stump Mitchell as the Arizona Cardinals’ running backs coach.

After all, Kitchens had served as the team’s quarterbacks coach since 2013, and before that, he guided the Cardinals’ tight ends for six seasons.

But some quick research shows that Kitchens, 42, is not new to the running back room, having coached the position most recently with Mississippi State in 2005 but also with North Texas from 2001 to 2003.

“It’s just coaching football, whether it’s quarterbacks or running backs it doesn’t matter to me,” Kitchens said following an OTA practice Thursday. “I’m having a good time with those guys, just like we did before, and hopefully we get better and better each day.”

In truth, Kitchens is kind of a position nomad.

He played quarterback in college for Alabama, passing for 4,668 yards and 30 touchdowns in his career, and after stints as an offensive assistant and graduate assistant with Glenville State and Louisiana State, respectively, he became the running backs coach for North Texas in 2001.

He moved to tight ends when he took a job at Mississippi State in 2004, but then switched to running backs for Bulldogs the following season. In 2006 he jumped to the NFL as the tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys, and then in 2007 he landed in the desert.

“I was raised up in coaching — I know I played quarterback, but I was raised up in coaching from an offensive line-perspective,” he said. “The guys that really taught me ball were offensive line coaches, and it just kind of progressed from there.

“And then I was fortunate enough to end up coaching quarterbacks here with B.A., which I felt like I knew a little bit about going into and just try to be diverse and do what I can to help.”

So when the idea of moving from QBs to RBs came about, Kitchens did not hesitate because as he said, he comes from the train of thought that whatever is best for the team is good for him.

“Our coaching staff’s kind of a team, and if that’s where I fit that particular year, whatever,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me one bit — I just want to win games.”

Arians often talks about positional versatility, how the more a player can do the more valuable they are to the team. It’s quite evident along the offensive line, where young players Cole Toner and Evan Boehm are learning new spots and veterans such as Tony Bergstrom can already fill multiple roles.

That the concept also holds true for coaches makes sense, and the head coach is quite pleased with what he is getting from Kitchens, whose diverse background gives him a unique perspective.

“Fantastic,” he said. “He’s got so much insight in the passing game and the whole offense that he’s giving all those guys a lot more, a different approach to (the position) than a running back (coach) that played running back.”

It helps that Kitchens is willing to learn from his players, too.

He recalled his season with the Cowboys, when he had a chance to work with Jason Witten. Now a 10-time Pro Bowler, in 2006 the former third-round pick was a rising star who Kitchens said taught him just as much about the position as anybody.

“I gained a lot of experience in college football coaching running backs and was very fortunate enough to coach some good players there and it’s kind of when you first start coaching a new position,” Kitchens said, noting he would not call running backs a new position now. “It’s kind of trial and error and you see what works and what doesn’t work.

“You’re not actually playing the game; you just have to give them things to look at and then let them make the decisions because I’m not running through a hole anytime soon.”

That’s not to say Kitchens, who survived a life-threatening heart problem in 2013, is not going places.

Back in January upon making the switch, Arians called Kitchens “a coordinator in waiting,” adding that moving from tight ends to quarterbacks and then quarterbacks to running backs was “another step for Freddie to become a coordinator.”

“It’s natural for Freddie to take over another position and expand his coaching resume because he’ll be a coordinator soon,” Arians said then.

Kitchens understands the dynamic, and as a coach, there are levels of progression and promotion he could very well be in line for down the road. But as he continues in his first season at his new position, that future is of little concern.

“I don’t know about all that, I just try to do the job I’m doing right now,” he said. “And let everything else take care of itself.”

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