BEREA — When it comes to the future of the Browns and the development of quarterback Baker Mayfield, keeping Freddie Kitchens should be a top priority.

Even if it means naming him coach.

Right now, in the growing pool of rumored candidates that may be led by ex-Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and former Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase, Kitchens would be my choice.

On Monday, Browns General Manager John Dorsey said “a mark of a good coach is being able to create a relationship with a player, especially at that position.” Dorsey obviously believes there are others who could build the same rapport Kitchens has with the first overall pick from Oklahoma who broke the NFL record for most touchdown passes by a rookie.

But the trust between Mayfield and Kitchens feels special and might not be easily replicated. There is a playfulness to their relationship, but also an underlying bond of mutual respect.

A YouTube video when Mayfield was miked-up for the Dec. 23 home finale against the Cincinnati Bengals provides evidence. Kitchens tickled Mayfield’s beard, with Mayfield quipping when Kitchens walked away, “The guy’s an idiot. I thought Moose was our mascot.”

Later in the game, Mayfield mimicked the Southern drawl of Kitchens and in his teasing included a backhanded compliment, “I’ve never seen somebody from Alabama talk about every scenario.”

It is possible Kitchens, 44, could be the next Sean McVay. It’s a huge risk for the Browns to let Kitchens go and have another foe benefit from that. The eight NFL teams with vacancies are searching for another McVay, the youngest coach in the league’s modern era when he was hired by the Rams in 2017 at age 30. The Dayton-born graduate of Miami University is 24-8 in two seasons.

Kitchens has only been an offensive coordinator for eight games. The former University of Alabama quarterback was surprisingly thrust into the role when Todd Haley followed coach Hue Jackson out the door, both fired on Oct. 29. Although Dorsey acknowledged he will interview Kitchens for the coaching job, Dorsey could decide Kitchens is not the type of leader he seeks for what will hopefully be a long run together.

But if Kitchens has the right stuff, Dorsey and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam can’t let Kitchens’ inexperience scare them away. In 1991, former Browns owner Art Modell thought Bill Cowher was too young (he turned 34 that May) and hired Bill Belichick. A year later, the Steelers scooped up Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Cowher, who spent 15 years in Pittsburgh.

Compounding the issue with Kitchens is that Dorsey knows he can’t force the next coach to retain him. But as Peter King said on “Football Morning in America” on NBCSports.com, an urgency to keep Kitchens — and in turn continue Mayfield’s rapid strides — could change the focus of the Browns’ search.

“Given the success of Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator — Baker Mayfield loves him and responds to him — my sense is the Browns feel they don’t have to get the next great offensive brain to work with Mayfield and develop an offensive identity,” King said. “They might have that guy now. So that could put a defensive presence like Vic Fangio of Chicago in play, or even a special-teams guru like Dave Toub — well known to GM John Dorsey from their days in Kansas City.”

It might take someone with strong ties to Dorsey to go along with a plan that includes keeping Kitchens. It will take someone confident enough in his abilities not to be threatened by Kitchens’ presence as his star ascends. Former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, 66, has said he would come out of retirement for the Browns’ job; he should be agreeable to a deal in which his former assistant Kitchens would be the OC/coach in waiting.

No matter whom the Browns choose, it seems ridiculous to throw a wrench into an offense that could become a grass-fed version of “The Greatest Show on Turf.” That’s not out of the realm as Mayfield, David Njoku, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins and perhaps free agent Breshad Perriman grow together, bolstered by one of the league’s best backs in Nick Chubb.

Dorsey acknowledged that Kitchens “has moved the bar on the offensive side of the ball,” which is amplified by the lack of creativity that has dogged the Browns for years. As former offensive coordinator Brad Childress said in early 2012 when that problem was brought up, “Have people stopped eating cereal?”

It will be even tougher to go back to Cheerios now.

After a 5-3 finish under interim coach Gregg Williams and Kitchens, Dorsey might feel Mayfield is good enough to take the Browns to the playoffs, no matter the coach. But that would be a gross miscalculation, even for an experienced football man like Dorsey.

A major reason for Mayfield’s improvement after the coaching change was his synergy with Kitchens. To continue that arc that seemingly has no bounds, Kitchens must stay.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.