How Season With Patriots Helped Inspire NFL’s Newest Head Coach

'... an unbelievable learning experience for me'

by

February 16

Kevin O’Connell didn’t spend much time with the New England Patriots. Only about 16 months, from the 2008 NFL Draft through the end of the 2009 preseason.

And though his on-field achievements during those 16 months were minimal — O’Connell appeared in two games and attempted six passes as Matt Cassel’s backup — that period laid the groundwork for what would become a flourishing coaching career.

Days after winning Super Bowl LVI as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, the 36-year-old O’Connell officially was announced Wednesday as the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. One week earlier, he reflected on how his brief stint in New England helped shape his future.

“I always tell people this,” O’Connell said during a Super Bowl week video conference. “I feel like although I felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool a little bit as a player, coming out of college (and) going into that football culture was an unbelievable learning experience for me. And I feel like at that moment, mentally, I felt myself finding that love of the other side of it — potentially getting into coaching once I got done playing.”

Playing under Bill Belichick, O’Connell said, taught him to be detail-oriented and value the importance of complementary football — two of Belichick’s main tenets.

“Just the process,” O’Connell said. “The detail, the unbelievable focus of our team and our coaching staff — and it all starts at the top with Coach Belichick — the ability to, week in and week out, prepare a football team for how they’re going to go about going out and trying to win a football game against different opponents and different challenges — because every single week in this league, it is really hard to win football games — able to center the focus of the team in all three phases to go out and really execute game plans week in, week out. Short week, long week, coming off a bye, whatever it was.

“I just have so much admiration and respect for what Coach Belichick’s been able to do there over such a long period of time and just the unbelievable players over that time that have played with such consistency. I think it’s a credit to not only Coach Belichick, but all the coaches — great, great coaches — that have gone through there, as well.”

O’Connell later spent time with the Detroit Lions, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers, but he never played another regular-season snap after leaving the Patriots. A third-round draft bust, he eventually found his calling as a coach, working for Cleveland, San Francisco and Washington before joining Sean McVay’s Rams staff in 2020.

Two weeks ago, O’Connell beat out Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh for the top job in Minnesota, replacing the ousted Mike Zimmer.

“We are ecstatic to add Kevin as our head coach,” Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf said in a statement. “He is a strong leader, an innovative coach and an excellent communicator. Kevin played the game at all levels, which gives him a unique connection to players, and he is highly respected throughout the league. Vikings fans should be excited for the future of this team under Kevin’s direction.”

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