Entering the organization this year, Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell, a new school leader at the age of 37, made a point to be as candid and transparent with players as possible.
No head games or ridicule, just honesty.
That means plenty of conversation, and the coach’s office should be where some more personal chats are held.
O’Connell made it a point of emphasis to connect with wide receiver Justin Jefferson early and often in the offseason.
Fast forward to training camp and O’Connell had asked Jefferson to visit his office. The star wide receiver’s response left his coach flabbergasted.
Kevin O’Connell Shocked Justin Jefferson Had Never Visited the Vikings Head Coach’s Office
In a December 1 ESPN feature, senior writer Tim Keown unearthed a small, but significant detail about Jefferson and Mike Zimmer’s relationship — that it was largely nonexistent.
Jefferson has realized superstar status in the league midway through his third season as a pro. However, Jefferson was already becoming the franchise’s most popular player in those first two years. It would make sense for a player becoming the focal point of the team’s offense to know where his head coach’s office is.
That’s until O’Connell made a simple ask during training camp that instead required directions to the head coach’s office.
O’Connell’s approach immediately diverged from Zimmer’s. During training camp, O’Connell invited Jefferson to his office for a conversation, which is how he learned that Justin Jefferson — top five receiver in the NFL, two-time Pro Bowler, most popular Viking by far — had not only never been to the head coach’s office but didn’t have any idea where it was.
Presented with this, O’Connell fidgets a little and coughs out a mirthless laugh. “The first time I invited him, I might have had to give him directions,” he says. Jefferson says, “Yeah, I didn’t know where the office was. It’s crazy.”
Keown describing O’Connell’s laugh as “mirthless” signals a tone of irony in the current head coach’s reaction. Keown did give Zimmer the benefit of the doubt that the team’s facility is “a sprawling tangle of glass and steel with no discernible flow.”
“Even the simplest route entails treks down tall glass hallways and up vast staircases and through at least two security doors. There appears to be no direct route to anything, and navigating it without an experienced guide feels like it could result in the need for an extraction unit,” Keown added. “Perhaps, in Zimmer’s estimation, Jefferson was considered too valuable to risk the journey.”
Zimmer did have major issues with the defense that he worked tirelessly to correct throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons, leaving less time for player interaction for an already stoic head coach.
However, the distance between Jefferson and Zimmer mirrors a similar situation that transpired with Stefon Diggs just years earlier.
Stefon Diggs’ Departure Paved Way for Justin Jefferson to Become the NFL’s No. 1 WR
Diggs’ souring situation in Minnesota was never about Kirk Cousins, but moreso about his role in the offense.
The superstar wideout saw himself as more than a deep threat that could break out on occasion. He saw the team’s best chances of winning were to feed him the ball, and his pleads weren’t often reciprocated in Minnesota.
However, that strategy has worked out well since he was traded to the Buffalo Bills. Diggs led the league in receptions and receiving yards his first year away from the Vikings and helped Buffalo make its first AFC Championship game appearance in nearly three decades by becoming the offense’s focal point. They’ve been a Super Bowl contender ever since.
Diggs’ departure paved way for Jefferson to do the same in Minnesota.
The Vikings selected Jefferson with the pick acquired for Diggs in the 2020 draft and since he’s been on a path to superstardom.
Jefferson excelled in his first two seasons, but with a new offensive philosophy that isn’t afraid to take risks and let Jefferson make a play, he’s now living up to his preseason prediction that he would become the league’s best wideout.