It was no surprise on Wednesday, just 3 days after winning the Superbowl as Rams offensive coordinator, that former Aztecs quarterback Kevin O’Connell was named the Minnesota Vikings head coach replacing Mike Zimmer.
The 36 year old O’Connell rose to the top of the ranks of potential NFL head coaches after a string of tough assistant jobs in various NFL organizations. Being considered the hot name on the come up is nothing new for the former 3rd round draft pick of the New England Patriots.
Kevin remains the highest draft pick of an SDSU QB in the last 20 years and was brought in with a good amount of expectation by the New England franchise. Certainly the pick was in no way expected to overtake the greatest quarterback of all time however.
Instead the NFL world is starting to see exactly what the Patriots saw in those draft room meetings—a sharp, focused and hard working mind, along with a somewhat infectiously positive demeanor when communicating. And we all know in this day and age, communication is more important than ever when dealing with not only professional athletes, but the official media as well as social media.
Whether Kevin has possessed innate characteristics that have helped him move ahead up the ladder, it’s the dues and experience that Kevin has paid to earn his stripes as the top offensive mind sought after this off season. It was in 2015 while SDSU was beginning to win football championships, that Kevin made his mark in the NFL as the quarterbacks coach for the struggling Cleveland Browns franchise.
To say he had his work cut out for himself would be an understatement. Imagine being the guy that had to teach and deal with the hot shot persona of a kid named “Johnny Football”. Johnny Manziel the hope of the Browns was in his 2nd season when McConnell was brought in to be his guru. That story wrote itself as Manziel was notorious for taking Las Vegas escapades before gamedays and was swiftly cut from the Cleveland roster in the spring of 2016—just after O’Connell was on the move to a much more steady franchise in San Francisco.
It’s a bit unclear what Kevin’s role was on the 2016 Chip Kelly led 49ers team. Special projects was the title given to him and well, lets just say it was a year spent for the resume. The 49ers failed at 2-14 under Chip Kelly. Undoubtedly a learning experience.
It was off to the nation’s capital for O’Connell and he took over the quarterback coaching duties for the then Redskins in 2017 under the now notorious Jay Gruden coaching regime. There’s no telling what kind of environment O’Connell positioned himself under such ownership there in Washington.
The quarterback personnel Kevin was dealt to work with during this stretch was one of the most brutal we’ve ever remembered. A solid Kirk Cousins in 2017 was quickly gone away when the Redskins brought in veteran Alex Smith in 2018. That bright future was quickly torn asunder when Smith suffered one of the most catastrophic leg injuries in all of football. The year concluded with Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez on the quarterback duties. Yikes.
The season was doomed and Kevin’s time with the Redskins only got tougher. The following 2019 season the now offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell was hinging all of his success on then rookie 1st round pick, Dwayne Haskins. The year ended at 3-13 and the Jay Gruden era was over.
But tough times didn’t last long after. The LA Rams with all of their billions of dollars swept up the now seasoned in the arts of NFL hard knocks Kevin O’Connell. The Rams were just a season removed from a Superbowl appearance in 2018, but after failing to make the NFC playoffs in 2019, Stan Kroenke was in need of a boost—as if moving into their new SoFi Stadium wasn’t enough.
Working with QB’s Blake Bortles and Jared Goff was an upgrade to what Kevin had previously in all of his stops, but it didn’t match the upgrades of facilities that’s for sure. While improving on the season to a 10-6 finish and winning a game in the playoffs, the Rams continued their ultra aggressive ways and brought in a true difference maker at the position—Matt Stafford.
Stafford was of similar position to Kevin. Both highly regarded talents in the league, but wasting away in mediocre franchises. The suffering in Detroit for their Lions was something few others can relate to. Kevin is surely one of those few.
Stafford completed the LA Rams offense giving them the ability to make all of the necessary decisions and throws. The quest to win the battle of LA would soon be complete as the Rams concluded with a Superbowl championship over the Bengals 23-20 playing in their home stadium.
The price paid for Kevin O’Connell was worth it. All the stops and crazy happenings, ultimately propelled him to the highest of stages in the league. These kind of results present golden opportunities. And in Kevin’s case, his is Purple & Gold and in Minnesota.
But will Kevin finally now be able to show what he is truly made of? Will all of those years cooking with discounted ingredients prove to have honed his skills as master chef? The world has seen what he was able to cook when using high quality ingredients. But now the responsibilities of forming a staff, a philosophy, and a culture all of his own begins.
The Minnesota Vikings are a proud franchise in the league. Though not well known for being big spenders, the passion for their team displays themselves as though they are. Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell are familiar with each other during that “special project” time in San Francisco—as are Kirk Cousins and O’Connell also from their year together in Washington.
Kevin will be furthering a Legacy of SDSU Aztecs players that have gone on to be successful NFL coaches. Some might say he is the combination of the three standouts among those.
The innovation of Joe Gibbs.
The intensity of John Fox.
And the leadership of Herm Edwards.
Perhaps this new opportunity in Minnesota will let Kevin cook as he wants. The ingredients may not be as fancy as the ones he had on Rodeo Drive, but the recipes will be ones he knows.
All the best Kevin OC. Sons of Montezuma is pulling for you.
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