This offseason, with a worsening cap situation and internal struggles, the Vikings trusted new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to make the right decision for the head coaching spot after the firing of Mike Zimmer on January 10th. The Vikings front office took a risk on a young, 37 year old coach by the name of Kevin O’Connell who had bounced around the NFL as a player and now as a coach. He led the Rams to the Super Bowl victory the year prior as the offensive coordinator and was believed to be the man for Minnesota. After a gutsy victory in Buffalo last Sunday, O’Connell had a strong post game message for his team, “What we earned here today is the final stamp on understanding that we are one of the best teams in this league.” A well deserved statement for a team that has earned the right to be recognized as a deep playoff contender in the NFL. Sitting at 8-1, O’Connell has led the Vikings to a 7-0 record in one score games and has been a catalyst for turning the Vikings franchise around.
Before entering the coaching circle, O’Connell had a bright future as an NFL Quarterback. He attended college at San Diego State University and was a four year captain in the program. He threw for over 7,000 yards and 46 touchdowns along with being an elusive runner for the position. His 4.61 40-yard dash impressed scouts and increased his draft stock. The Patriots took a chance on him in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft and they wanted to build him into the backup role behind Tom Brady. He never saw any meaningful playing time and bounced around the league for the following 4 seasons before injuries put an end to his playing career. With the opportunity to play football no longer present, O’Connell set his sights on NFL coaching with his high football IQ and quarterback knowledge.
He started his coaching career in 2015, with a job as a quarterback’s coach of the Cleveland Browns. After short stints in Cleveland and San Francisco, he became the quarterback’s coach for Kirk Cousins in Washington. That was the start of a relationship that would become the foundation for Minnesota’s success. Although he didn’t accomplish much in Washington, his bright mind was recognized by the league and he accepted the job as the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2020. He blossomed in that role creating an unstoppable offense in his 2 years at the helm, contributing to the Rams championship run and arguably being the man responsible for Cooper Kupp’s record breaking season as a receiver.
When O’Connell was hired on February 15th of this year, there were many questions about his lack of head coaching experience and youth. In his introductory press conference, he touched on the passionate fanbase and the ability to build a winning culture in Minnesota. O’Connell has done just that. A week 1 statement against the Packers, where his offensive scheme showed off the explosiveness of Justin Jefferson, in what looked to be an improved version of the already intricate offense built around Cooper Kupp from the year prior. After the week 2 loss to the Eagles, O’Connell promised to do a better job of holding his players accountable and he has kept his word. The Vikings have rattled off win after win and are having fun doing it. Jefferson has continued to find his groove, the defense has held their own, and a 34 year old Kirk Cousins is excelling in a new system designed for him to do just that.
Kevin O’Connell has transformed from an under the radar pick to be a head coach to a favorite in the Coach of the Year voting. The youthful energy of O’Connell has resonated with the players and ignited the locker room into a frenzy after every post game victory. His knowledge of how Kirk Cousins operates has been a driving factor in their success and the gameplans featured around Justin Jefferson have been executed at times to near perfection. For a first year head coach, he has shown extreme promise as a play caller and a motivator. If the winning continues, so will the energy from the fanbase. O’Connell has a bright future ahead as the lead man in Minnesota. It looks like nothing can get in his way of a potential breakout first season in charge and a run at Coach of the Year.