EAGAN, Minn. — When Patrick Peterson rolled in Monday, he began preparing for his 12th NFL season and sixth different head coach.
Peterson has played for Ken Whisenhunt (2011-12), Bruce Arians (2013-17), Steve Wilks (2018), Kliff Kingsbury (2019-20) and Mike Zimmer (2021).
Except for interim service in 2012 when former Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano was battling cancer, Arians was a first-time head coach. Wilks was a longtime assistant in college and the NFL before his hire by Arizona in 2018. Kingsbury made the jump from the NCAA in 2019 after he was the head coach at Texas Tech from 2013-18.
Add Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, 36, to the list of first-timers to guide a team with Peterson, who will turn 32 in July.
View photos of Vikings players returning to the TCO Performance Center to begin the 202 offseason program.
How does the savvy vet plan to help O'Connell's launch, and what have been Peterson's takeaways from past experiences?
"I've had the opportunity to go through a bunch of coaching changes," Peterson said. "That's just the nature of the business. That's something that you just have to be willing to roll with. The thing I can say [first-year coaches have had] in common is just a different energy from the old-school guys like a Bruce Arians.
"B.A. had a great energy, but it's more of an 'uncle' energy," Peterson continued humorously. "It was more of a curse-you-out type of energy. 'It's my-way-or-no-way' type of energy. But he was a great coach and got his message across [effectively]. But I think with the younger guys, you see much more of the music playing, much more of the laid-back vibe, letting guys be men at the end of the day, so I'm excited for the K.O. era and seeing where it's going to take us."
Newcomer Chris Reed, an offensive lineman who teamed with Adam Thielen at Minnesota State, Mankato, has been through plenty of coaching changes as well.
Reed spent the 2015 offseason with Jacksonville under Gus Bradley after joining the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. Doug Marrone took over for Bradley in 2016, and Reed started eight regular-season games over the next three seasons before landing in Miami with Brian Flores for a quick stint in 2019.
Later that season, Reed joined the Panthers, who were being led on an interim basis by Perry Fewell in place of Ron Rivera. Carolina hired Matt Rhule from the college ranks in 2020 when Reed started all 14 games he played. Reed then spent 2021 in Indianapolis under Frank Reich. He is expected to compete for the starting right guard position.
"I've had coaching changes in Jacksonville. Miami was a new coaching staff, Carolina was a coaching staff, so I've seen a little bit of everything," Reed said Tuesday. "I've seen old-school, more new-school thinking. I just kind of think it's an environment that fosters the players taking over and growing, compared to a fear-driven system. I think that is going to be key to getting this team where it needs to go, and where it wants to go."
Receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook and right tackle Brian O'Neill all spoke this week during media sessions and offered their initial takes of the culture that O'Connell is trying to build by cultivating meaningful relationships beyond the bounds of Xs and Os.
The connection between O'Connell and Jefferson began shortly after Super Bowl LVI when Minnesota could officially announce O'Connell's hire as the 10th head coach in franchise history.
Jefferson got a scouting report from Odell Beckham, Jr., who joined the Rams and helped Los Angeles win it all two months ago.
"I talked to Odell about coach. He definitely gave some good words," Jefferson said. "He said he's a great coach who connects with his players very well. Definitely looking forward to that. I've been hearing nothing but great things about him, and he's been doing so good so far."
O'Connell FaceTimed Jefferson as the head coach was preparing for his introductory press conference and let the record-setting receiver — who has made the Pro Bowl twice in as many seasons — that a bigger leadership role awaits. O'Connell had done his reconnaissance with Beckham on Jefferson.
"It feels great, honestly," Jefferson said of what O'Connell communicated to him. "Just for him to come in and be a laid-back coach ready to change the whole program and get us back on that winning stage. We're all excited. We've seen so many new faces in here, so many new coaches. We have so much potential on this team. We're all ready to get this thing started back up.
"These guys make it easy in this building," Jefferson added. "Everybody just connected well with each other, everybody on the same page. Everybody wants to win. So, at this point, we're just trying to find a way to change on the last two years, get back on that winning track and the main objective is really just to connect with one another at this point."
Thielen, who reworked his contract, and Cousins, who signed a one-year extension through 2023, helped the Vikings free up salary cap space for free agency.
"I'd hate to not be here with all of the changes and excitement, and I would hate to leave at this point in my career," said Thielen, who mentioned that a "great locker room" and new additions are exciting but won't guarantee wins.
"Now, … we've still got to do our job," Thielen added. "Just because you have change doesn't mean you're going to have success, so we've got to put the work in, and we have to understand that."
Cousins described his thoughts as he looked around the Vikings locker room at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
"It's exciting and encouraging to see really capable players, and good players, and good people, who work hard and who are good teammates," Cousins said. "It's not a good feeling when you start [Organized Team Activity practices] and you're looking around the locker room and you're concerned about pieces and you're concerned about, 'What are we going to do at this position?' or 'What's our answer here?' So to be in the locker room and just feel really good about the group and really good about the experience we have and the type of players we have and people, that's a great feeling, especially at the quarterback position."
Cousins said the Vikings will stack bricks, beginning with basic offensive installs, formations and snap counts with the goal of being able to run the full offense through all potential scenarios by the end of the offseason program in June.
Cook said he's personally preferred to be "coached hard" and has never minded "being chewed out." But he realizes some other players may benefit from a more genteel delivery.
"Whatever you want to say, you can say to me. I like being coached like that," Cook said. "K.O. is like one of those cool, smooth guys who can relate to his players. You've got younger guys coming in that need that type of relationship with coaches to get them over the hump to be the player they need to be. I think it's good for us, and the next step for all of us is to go win, and we've got to go do it."
O'Neill said O'Connell has "done a really good job" of communicating "how he wants things to go and what it's going to look like for us, in terms of building the foundation."
"Positive energy — coming in and everybody doing their job every day with a smile on their face and a collective effort to do things the right way consistently," O'Neill explained.
Safety Harrison Smith said coaches began reaching out after their hire, from O'Connell to Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell to Daronte Jones, who returned this year to coach Vikings defensive backs (as he did in 2020) after a season at LSU.
Smith said it will be important not only to cultivate identity but to stick to it even at "the first bump in the road."
"I was fortunate to talk to [O'Connell] on the phone a couple times, and that consistency is still there," Smith said. "He knows everything about every coach here. He knows everything about every player. Obviously, we're going to be into the schemes and we're going to get into that, but we're starting with trying to build some trust amongst each other, some accountability, some relationships."
Relationships in the locker room that Peterson began forming last year, including with Smith, were a big reason the cornerback wanted to return for a second season with the Vikings. He also explained a long-running connection with Donatell that began when Peterson was a blue chip prospect.
Peterson believes accountability to team does not require the abandonment of fun.
"I'm excited to see where it's going to take us," Peterson said. "Every coach here has a purpose. Kevin did a great job of hand-picking every one of these guys that we have on the staff and keeping some key guys as well. Hopefully it's going to be a great partnership that can really work out for a very long time."