Minnesota Vikings Hire Kevin O’Connell as Next Head Coach

Kevin O’Connell won a Super Bowl on Sunday as the offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, but on Wednesday was introduced as the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

Vikings Minnesota Hire Head Coach Kevin O'Connell OC RamsKevin O’Connell spent the last two seasons as the LA Rams OC, but he gets his first shot as a head coach with the Minnesota Vikings. (Image: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

O’Connell, 36, is the son of an FBI agent and a standout quarterback from San Diego State. He was a former third-round pick from the 2008 NFL Draft. He had a short stint in the NFL as a third-string quarterback with the New England Patriots and New York Jets. A shoulder injury forced him to pivot to coaching.

O’Connell got his start as a quarterbacks coach with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, before becoming the offensive coordinator of the Washington Football Team in 2019. Sean McVay from the LA Rams hired him as their offensive coordinator in 2020, and he spent the last two seasons as McVay’s OC.

The Vikings parted ways with Mike Zimmer after an 9-8 season in 2021. Zimmer went 72-56-1 in eight seasons as the Vikings head coach. The Vikings were 2-3 in the postseason under Zimmer, but they failed to qualify for the playoffs in the last two seasons.

The high-water mark of the Zimmerman era happened in 2017 when the Vikings secured a spot in the NFC Championship game. They lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, who went on to upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51.

The Vikings are hopeful that O’Connell can lead them to their first-ever Super Bowl victory. The Vikings are +3500 odds to win Super Bowl 57, which puts them in the middle of the pack.

Vikes Raiding the McVay Coaching Tree

The NFL is a copycat league, so every team desperate to shake up their team thinks that anyone on Sean McVay’s staff is just as good as hiring McVay himself. Last season, the LA Chargers hired McVay’s defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to become the Bolts next head coach.

This season, the Vikings went after McVay’s offensive coordinator and they hired O’Connell to help replicate some of McVay’s magic with the Rams. After all, the Rams have two Super Bowl appearances in the last four seasons including one victory.

O’Connell spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator with the Rams. He had a difficult task ahead of him last offseason trying to get newly-acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford up to speed with the Rams offense. O’Connell did the same thing after the Rams added Odell Beckham, Jr in the middle of the season.

“With Kevin O’Connell I see a lot of the similarities that I saw with Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Sean McVay,” said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. “When they were hired as head coaches you knew they had great football minds, they were innovative, hard workers, good with people.”

The Vikings hired O’Connell as head coach because he has a previous relationship with Cousins. O’Connell worked with Cousins as his QB coach with Washington in 2017.

“He is a great football mind,” said Cousins. “He’s been around a lot of a great football minds. He’s a hard worker. He was big in my development.”

O’Connell also showered Cousins with praise. The Vikings think that if anyone can get the most out of Cousins, it will be O’Connell.

Keep Cousins, or Chase Watson?

After the Vikings loss in the 2017 NFC title game, the Vikings brought in Cousins at quarterback. They signed him to a head-scratching, three-year contract extension worth $84 million.

Cousins has a $35 million base salary in 2022, but the Viking incur a $45 million cap hit to include a $10 million prorated bonus. Since Cousins joined the Vikings, they went 33-31-1 with two winning seasons and just one playoff berth in the 2019 season. Cousins has a 1-1 record in the postseason as the Vikings quarterback.

The Vikings could keep Cousins for one more season, or they could be aggressive in pursuing Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans. Watson demanded a trade last January and sat out the 2021 season when the Texans refused to trade him. He also has 22 ongoing civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct with massage therapists.

The Miami Dolphins were initially interested in acquiring Watson in a trade, but negotiations fell apart prior to the 2021 trade deadline because the Texans got too greedy and wanted more than the Dolphins were willing to give up.

After Tom Brady retired, the Tampa Bay Bucs joined the Watson sweepstakes. The Bucs are eyeballing both Watson and Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks.

Meanwhile, the Vikings entered the mix. They seem like a long shot to acquire Watson, but if they can dump Cousins and draft picks in exchange for Watson, then they won’t have to worry about Cousins or his insane $45 million contract next season.

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