Des Kitchings might take up a part-time job at one of Nashville’s most popular attractions.
A former Franklin resident, Kitchings is very familiar with the Opryland Hotel. Not only has he visited the mammoth resort, but he’s racking up hotel points.
In 2008, in his first year as Vanderbilt’s running backs coach, he stayed at the hotel as the Commodores prepared for the Music City Bowl. Two weeks later, he waltzed through the gigantic botanical gardens once again for the annual American Football Coaches Association convention.
Flash forward four years and Kitchings is back at Opryland. This time he is on the coaching staff at North Carolina State, which plays his former employer, Vanderbilt, in the Music City Bowl on Monday. Crazy enough, the following week he’ll return to Opryland — for the AFCA convention.
“I could probably be a tour guide here for the Opryland Hotel,” Kitchings joked on Thursday in the hotel’s spacious Magnolia lobby. “Vanderbilt won that game but I want to see N.C. State win this one.”
Win or lose, Kitchings won’t need to shuffle wide-eyed tourists by the many waterfalls and towering plants at Opryland.
Amidst a head coaching change at N.C. State, he was the only assistant coach retained. Kitchings will continue to coach the running backs in his second year with the Wolfpack and first with head coach Dave Doeren, who replaced Tom O’Brien two weeks ago.
“Outstanding coach,” interim coach Dana Bible said. “I’m really glad I had an opportunity to work with him this past year. Very talented and has a bright future.”
Kitchings has made stops at four institutions, including Air Force in 2011 where the Falcons ranked third in the nation in rushing offense. But the 33-year-old’s coaching career received a jump start when he arrived at Vanderbilt in 2008.
A former receiver at Furman, he spent four years as an assistant at his alma mater before he ccepted a position to join the Vanderbilt coaching staff, which was led by former Furman head coach, Bobby Johnson.
“I enjoyed it. It was my first opportunity to coach in the SEC,” Kitchings said. “I got a chance to spend that with some good guys. I got a chance to meet a lot of good people there at Vanderbilt. It was a great experience.”
With an affable attitude, the young assistant coach resonated with his players, especially Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. Just freshmen then, Norman and Stacy were the Commodores’ top two rushers in 2009. Plus, Norman was named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
In his first year with N.C. State, Kitchings again enjoyed success with a rookie tailback. Freshman Shadrach Thornton ranked fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing (72.8 yards per game) despite missing three games to an injury.
“He is a good one,” Stacy, now a senior, said. “I always admired his work ethic as a coach. I’m pretty sure he is keeping that mentality in his coaching career. It is going to be exciting playing against him.”
Midway through the 2010 season, Kitchings received a chance to broaden his horizons. He spent the last five games as Vanderbilt's offensive coordinator. He cherished the opportunity and Jordan Matthews remembers thriving in the game plan.
A promising freshman wide receiver, Matthews saw more passes headed in his direction with Kitchings calling the plays. He caught the first four touchdowns of his career in the season’s last four games.
“He saw something in me,” Matthews said. “That’s probably how I actually started getting the ball a little bit at the end of my freshman year.”
When Kitchings looks at the Vanderbilt depth chart he sees a lot of familiar faces and takes a lot of pride in their growth. Of the 22 current starters, 20 were on the roster in 2010 — his last year on staff.
“Just to see those young men develop,” Kitchings said. “They played a lot of football. From the day they walked on campus as true freshmen, they all played. They gained a lot of experience over the last three, four years and it is paying off for them.”
The same can be said for Kitchings.
“One thing I learned in my short time is there are two types of coaches in this profession,” Kitchings said. “There are guys who have been fired and there are guys who are going to be fired. I don’t think that is a direct reflection of your capabilities as a coach. It is just the nature or the profession and particularly the trend the last five years.
"The thing I am pleased about is that my family does not get to move. I really enjoy the city of Raleigh and North Carolina State University. I’m looking forward to moving with the new staff and Coach Doeren and continuing to build on the foundation that is already set.”