Kevin O’Connell’s ascension in the NFL is continuing all the way up to Minnesota.
The Vikings are expected to hire the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator as head coach, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday. The deal cannot be completed until after Super Bowl LVI where O’Connell’s Rams face the Cincinnati Bengals.
Finalists for the job included colleague and Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Giants DC Patrick Graham and University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who met with team brass for nine hours Wednesday but was not offered the job, per Pelissero. O’Connell was also a top candidate for the Jaguars and Texans.
This will be the the 36-year-old’s first foray as a head coach. If history is any indicator, his recent experience portends to future success. O’Connell has served as L.A.’s OC for the past two seasons under Sean McVay, whose recent disciples include the Bengals’ Zac Taylor, the Packers’ Matt LaFleur and the Chargers’ Brandon Staley. All of them, interestingly, were hired as HCs before turning 40, with O’Connell set to become the league’s second youngest behind McVay.
Moreover, O’Connell has seen his responsibilities grow at each NFL stop. Following a brief pro playing career that commenced in New England — the San Diego State product was selected in the third round of the 2008 draft to back up Tom Brady — O’Connell broke into coaching in 2015 as an assistant with the Browns. He then spent one year with the 49ers, where he worked alongside new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, before moving on to Washington to be the QBs coach. O’Connell was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator, but was not retained when Ron Rivera became the coach in 2020. McVay soon hired O’Connell and made him the Rams’ OC, a role that had been vacant the previous two years.
L.A. made considerable strides on offense in 2021, catapulting to sixth in scoring after being ranked 22nd in 2020. Quarterback Matthew Stafford tied career highs in touchdown passes (41) and completion percentage (67.2) while throwing for 4,886 yards in his first year with the Rams. His 102.9 passer rating was easily his highest for a full season.
O’Connell will inherit a Vikings offense that ranked a respectable 12th in scoring but lacked consistency and too often failed to deliver in tight games with Kirk Cousins under center. That was one part of the equation preventing Minnesota from more team success. The club won at least seven games in all eight seasons under former coach Mike Zimmer, but it amounted to just three playoff appearances and two victories.
It’s now up to O’Connell, whose successful tenure with the Rams officially ends with the Super Bowl on Feb. 13, to take the Vikings to new heights.