Josh McDaniels, who left to join the Las Vegas Raiders, is not the only new NFL head coach with ties to the New England Patriots. The ninth and final one hired this offseason also previously spent time with the organization: Kevin O’Connell, who will lead the Minnesota Vikings moving forward.
Unlike McDaniels’ tenure with the Patriots, though, O’Connell’s can not necessarily be seen as a success. A third-round quarterback drafted by New England in 2008, he appeared in two games for the team before his release the following year.
Despite his stint with the team being a short one, it left a lasting impression on the Vikings’ new head coach.
“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, going into that football culture was an unbelievable learning experience for me,” he said in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. “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.”
After his time in New England came to an end in 2009, O’Connell spent time in Detroit, New York, Miami and San Diego. He ended his career with a total of six pass attempts — all of them coming as a member of the 2008 Patriots.
O’Connell returned to the NFL in 2015, and after stint with the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers rose to prominence in Washington: he worked as quarterbacks coach, passing game coordinator and eventually offensive coordinator. By 2020, he had left the team to become Sean McVay’s OC with the Los Angeles Rams.
Just two days after helping the Rams win the Super Bowl, he was announced as Minnesota’s new head coach. His time in New England under Bill Belichick was integral for this development considering that it taught him some valuable lessons about leading a football team.
“Just the process,” he said when asked about what he took away from Belichick’s approach to coaching. “The detail, the unbelievable focus of our team and our coaching staff. 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.”
O’Connell spent just 16 months under Belichick and all of them in a backup capacity. Nonetheless, his thoughts on the future Hall of Famer are obvious.
“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,” he said. “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 has coached against Belichick-led teams multiple times, and will do so again during the 2022 season. His Vikings will host the Patriots in the regular season.