Why adding Freddie Kitchens is a no-brainer for South Carolina and the offense

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South Carolina is adding some NFL flavor to its coaching staff.

OK, slow those eye rolls.

Yes, Gamecocks fans have had mixed emotions from offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield’s foray from the Carolina Panthers to Columbia over the last year. But this newest transaction is different — sort of.

South Carolina announced last week that it had hired former Cleveland Browns head coach and longtime NFL assistant Freddie Kitchens as a senior offensive analyst. In modern college football terms, that’s a fancy way of saying Kitchens will likely break down film and aid the offensive staff where necessary — though his exact responsibilities are still being ironed out, per head coach Shane Beamer.

More than anything, though, Kitchens’ hiring is a no-brainer addition for an offensive staff that’s seemingly gone all-in on 2022.

“I wasn’t looking to add somebody — we were set,” Beamer told The State last week. “This is just the opportunity to add somebody that I’ve known for 20 years, that I know is a really good person and a really good football coach.”

Beamer, Satterfield and the rest of the offensive staff will be the first to tell you that last season wasn’t good enough.

The Gamecocks finished 110th out of 130 teams in total offense nationally. They ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense and 13th in both scoring offense and passing offense. The USC offensive line also ranked among the league’s worst in most every major blocking category, per Pro Football Focus.

To South Carolina’s credit, it still mitigated starting four different quarterbacks and an up-and-down offensive line to win six regular-season games and, eventually, a Duke’s Mayo Bowl romp of North Carolina.

So where does Kitchens fit into all this?

USC has made a clear effort to revamp an offense that largely held it back a season ago. The ex-NFL head coach, at least on paper, ought to be a piece of that.

Former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler is the headliner of a transfer portal class that ranks No. 7 in the nation and No. 4 in the SEC, per 247Sports. Ex-OU tight end Austin Stogner, Wake Forest running back import Christian Beal-Smith and receivers Antwane “Juice” Wells (James Madison) and Corey Rucker (Arkansas State) should all make immediate impacts.

South Carolina also brings back productive pieces from last season’s bunch in receiver Josh Vann and do-it-all tight end Jaheim Bell. That’s not to mention a running back room that should go three or four players deep with MarShawn Lloyd, Juju McDowell, Beal-Smith and Lovasea Carroll (Georgia).

The addition of Kitchens feels like a home run in conjunction with these other offseason moves. He’s well-connected in NFL circles and has a 20-year relationship with Beamer (and new tight ends coach Jody Wright) dating back to their days at Mississippi State.

The worst-case scenario here is not bad at all: Kitchens spends one season in Columbia breaking down film and helping out an offense that should take a step forward.

“I don’t want a giant staff of analysts where nobody knows what anybody does just to have a former head coach on staff,” Beamer said. “But (Kitchens) is a guy that I know, that I think can help us in a lot of ways.”

To be clear, this isn’t an ascent into Nick Saban-dom via the army of people he’s hired as analysts over the last decade and the pseudo-recovery program for fired college football coaches he’s developed in Tuscaloosa.

Beamer made sure to note that Kitchens’ hiring was, as much as anything else, right place and right time.

Kitchens — who worked for the New York Giants last year — visited with South Carolina’s staff this spring, Beamer said. The pair also had dinner in Florida in January around the time when the Giants fired head coach Joe Judge (who also has ties to Beamer from their time at Mississippi State).

Beamer said there were other major programs pining after Kitchens — programs, according to Beamer, the former Alabama quarterback had connections to. (Kitchens was also previously an assistant at LSU and Mississippi State, for what it’s worth.)

“The one thing that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes with being in the business of football is the the goodness of people,” Kitchens told The State earlier this year. “And we had we had a lot of good people on that (MSU) staff. They were great human beings. They (Beamer, Wright, Judge and others) worked their ass off and and nobody really cared about getting credit for anything. It was just about coming into work and trying to do the best for Mississippi State at the time.”

The one layer to Kitchens’ addition that might not even matter is whether he becomes an insurance policy should the Gamecocks undergo any kind of staff changes down the road.

Beamer, as expected, stood by his coaches last season when the team went through rough spots. That’s what good bosses should do — defend their guys.

That said, it’s no secret that Satterfield came under fire in 2021. The USC offense was erratic and unwatchable at points. A revolving door at quarterback didn’t help the cause, nor did inconsistent offensive line play, among other factors.

To their credit, Beamer and Satterfield haven’t shied away from discussing last season’s woes.

Satterfield has wholeheartedly owned the issues of last fall and never publicly threw anyone under the bus. The same can be said for Beamer, who went to great lengths to defend his offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Greg Adkins.

That’s part of what made moments like the bowl win over North Carolina vindicating for the second-year head coach.

“All I’ve heard for a month is how awful they are, and what am I doing not firing people and things like that,” Beamer said postgame. “Well, I hope that’s a great answer for you right there. That’s why.”

Possible insurance aside, it’s hard to imagine South Carolina’s offense doesn’t take at least a small step forward given the wholesale talent upgrades on that side of the ball.

Adding a longstanding NFL mind to lend his thoughts on the unit only stands to help that cause.

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