Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Dealt Blind Disrespect in NFL Head Coach Rankings

Kevin O'Connell

Courtesy of Vikings Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd aired his grievances with his playing time on defense amid his Pro Bowl bid on special teams.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell is among five NFL head coaches that embark on their first seasons at the helm of their respective teams this fall.

While every rookie head coach is unproven, O’Connell’s background has NFL pundits skeptical of his potential, especially Pro Football Network, which ranked O’Connell at the bottom of the league’s head coach hierarchy.

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O’Connell Ranked the 32nd Head Coach in the NFL

Pro Football Network’s Mike Kaye released his annual head coach rankings and placed O’Connell among the bottom tier of rookie coaches.

“Lists that rank inexperienced head coaches in the upper echelon of their profession are projecting instead of portraying the reality of the situation, which is that no one has any clue how good or bad they will be,” Kaye precursed his rookie head coach tier rankings.

O’Connell was ranked 32nd out of 32 NFL coaches, with Kaye deeming first-year head coaches Mike McDaniels (Miami Dolphins), Brian Daboll (New York Giants), Nathaniel Hackett (Denver Broncos) and Matt Eberflus (Chicago Bears) as better options than O’Connell.

“Kevin O’Connell, despite being a former NFL QB and coordinator, is the mystery man among the head-coaching ranks. While the Vikings kept their roster mostly in place, O’Connell will clearly bring his own ideas to the table. O’Connell is a true wild card, for better or worse,” Kaye wrote.

The biggest critique of O’Connell is that he never called plays as an offensive coordinator with the Super-Bowl-winning Los Angeles Rams, however, Hackett also didn’t call plays with the Green Bay Packers.

Despit the lack of recent experience, O’Connell has called plays before and the Associated Press’ Greg Beacham argues O’Connell has a significant role that outsiders of the Rams overlook.

“The thing about Kevin O’Connell is he’s been at the controls of the Rams’ offense in almost every way, except actually calling the plays, for two years, which makes him a guy who’s seen what Sean McVay does and what makes the Rams so successful over the last five years,” Beachum said in an interview with Denver Broncos.com. “And there’s only a handful of guys in the world who can say that; three of the other assistants who can say that are currently head coaches of their own teams, and two are still in the playoffs along with Sean McVay, so the pedigree is impeccable. There’s no doubt that Kevin is the next guy in that lineage.”

And while O’Connell not calling plays in Los Angeles will remain a poking point until he does so with the Vikings, a flash of his play-calling potential surfaced in Washington and elevated his rise as a coach.


O’Connell Works Magic in Washington

In 2019, the Commanders started the 2019 season 0-5 and fired head coach Jay Gruden, thrusting O’Connell, formerly the quarterbacks coach, into his first offensive coordinator role while Bill Callahan assumed the role as interim leader of the team.

O’Connell was tasked with putting rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who passed away suddenly in April, in the best position to succeed as Washington’s play-caller.

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Like most rookie signal-callers, Haskins took his bumps and bruises at first. Haskins won just two games after replacing Case Keenum as the starter in Week 9, averaging a 68.6 passer rating in his first five starts.

However, he showed growth in his final two starts of the season.

In his final two outings, Haskins threw for four touchdowns and posted passer ratings of 121.3 and 143.2. O’Connell maximized Haskins’ mobility, adding more bootleg and screen-pass concepts to the playbook, allowing the rookie to minimize his mistakes in a game manager role. The game seemed to slow down for Haskins, who was sacked just three times in those final two games after being sacked four times a game in his first five starts.

“Hell yeah, there’s been a change in the offensive playcalling,” guard Ereck Flowers said after Washington scored five touchdowns in a 41-35 loss against the Giants, the first time since 2016 the Commanders scored that many TDs, per The Athletic. “He dialed it up. All them points today … you can’t ask for more. It’s the first time he’s really had full control this year. Just like how players get better, play-calling continues to develop, too. He called a helluva a game. Helluva game.”

After surpassing 21 points just once in the first 12 weeks of the season, the Commanders posted 27 or more points in three of their final five games.

O’Connell attributed the team’s improvement to the player’s devotion to improving every week — an M.O. he carried himself as a first-time play-caller looking to maximize the potential of his players.

“Then, when I got the chance to call plays every single Sunday, it’s been a process to get to where I think I’m at now and hopefully where I can go from here,” he said. “I can get better, I can improve, there’s always ways that I can constantly be helping get this group in the best possible situations. That’s going to be my No. 1 priority, figuring out how to eliminate the mistakes that I made and continue to help these guys — older players, young players, whoever it may be — acclimate to what I’m trying to do and what I want to get done on Sunday to help them have success.”

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