GADSDEN, Ala. - Freddie Kitchens was pretty sure coaching wasn't what he wanted to do.
The former Alabama quarterback didn't have hard plans for anything else after quarterbacking the Crimson Tide for three seasons, but he'll never claim to have always wanted a whistle around his neck, either.
No, he liked being under center - there was something about the adrenalin that was hard to replace in any other way. Something about trailing Auburn with 32 seconds remaining, and finding Dennis Riddle on a screen pass for an Iron Bowl-winning touchdown, that couldn't be duplicated behind a desk or stuck in an office. Today, he's the tight ends coach of the NFC defending champion Arizona Cardinals, and couldn't be much happier about it.
In the Fall of 1998, he couldn't have felt much worse.
"That first fall after I left Alabama football I had to finish some classes and graduate," Kitchens said at the annual Freddie Kitchens Football Camp last week. "It was a difficult fall for me, I was out of eligibility, but I had to stay there and graduate. I had a job washing FedEx trucks and I could do it any day I wanted as long as the trucks got washed. I usually chose Saturdays to do it on because I was taking 24 [credit] hours so my weeks were pretty full. I would turn the radio on, listen to the games, and wash those FedEx trucks. The feelings that I had that fall of '98 was probably what led to the decision of getting into coaching. It was a miserable fall."
Miserable enough for him to give his playing career one more chance. His efforts to catch on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders resulted in a broken arm in 1999, and that's when he placed a call that would change the course of his life.
"I saw that Rick Trickett got the head coaching job at his alma mater which is Glenville State College, called him up, and he needed another coach so he kind of just made a spot for me," Kitchens said. "I didn't even know him, I just knew that he would know me, through Auburn and Alabama and stuff, and took a chance and just called him up out of the blue."
Four days later, Kitchens was in Glenville, West Virginia, to start his coaching career, and Trickett handed him a check for $500. It wasn't his pay for the week, or even the month.
It was for the season. And that was to coach two positions.
A year later, Trickett took an assistant coaching job under Nick Saban at LSU, and asked Kitchens if he would like to come along as a graduate assistant. Kitchens spent a day with Saban and decided the learning opportunity was too good to pass on. Kitchens said that while Saban demanded 100 percent from all those around him – G.A.'s included – he always gave 100 percent himself: "And that's all you can ask for."
From there, Kitchens' rise in the coaching ranks was meteoric.
He planned to be a G.A. for a second year under Saban at LSU when, just before the 2001 season, he accepted a position at North Texas as a running backs coach under Darrell Dickey. Three consecutive Sun-Belt Conference titles later, he was hired by Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, then by Bill Parcells to coach for the Dallas Cowboys, and most recently by the Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt.
"It's never really been about the rise for me, it's just always been about doing your job," Kitchen said. "The opportunity just gets you in the door, you have to hold the job yourself. But you've got to feel blessed, fortunate, there's luck, and timing, a lot of things have come together for me to be able to make the moves I've made."
The first NFL game he ever attended, he coached in. The first Super Bowl he ever attended, last January, he coached in.
"[Losing in the Super Bowl] is still like somebody stabbed you in the gut with a knife, but at the end of the day you look back on the experience, and really not the experience of the Super Bowl but the experience of getting there, getting through each week of the playoffs. The ride is the fun part," he said.
His clinic, held at Gadsden City High School, is now in its tenth year.
"It's a great opportunity for me to make sure everybody's aware that, I may be in Phoenix or Dallas or wherever, but I know where I'm from," Kitchens said. "It's humbling to come back and see some of these kids, because I know I was one of them 15, 20 years ago."
Kitchens passed for 4,668 yards and 30 touchdowns in his UA career, and at the time of his departure, ranked in the top five passers in school history for attempts, completions and yards.
See Freddie Kitchens' game winning touchdown pass in the 1996 Iron Bowl by clicking here.