EAGAN, Minn. — When Kevin O'Connell was named head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in February, he Facetimed his new players on his first day to start building a rapport with them.
Soon after, O'Connell requested a logo that would express the values he envisioned for his team. A shield, known as "The Culture Shield," has the following words on it:
A massive version made of wood and metal is mounted on a wall of the players' entry hallway. They pass it each day on their way in and out of the building.
On Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings brought that mantra to life, earning a 23-7 victory to open the season.
O'Connell told Twin Cities media members Monday that his team stayed connected during the game.
"You felt a team that was excited to play with one another. Excited to play for the other sides of the ball – complementary football," O'Connell said. "No one was more excited about that fourth-and-1 stop than the offense, and you saw it. As they ran on the field, you've got [right tackle] Brian O'Neill dappin' up [outside linebacker] Za'Darius [Smith], and [quarterback Kirk Cousins is] giving a high-five to [safety] Harrison Smith, and you just feel our units kind of understanding that we are one team, and it's our team."
Wide receiver Adam Thielen said the team bought into O'Connell's philosophy early and saw everything they've worked on throughout the offseason and training camp come to fruition on Sunday.
"When you talk about something over and over and then it actually comes to life and they're doing what they say you're going to do, you start to build confidence. And as players, you just really trust it," Thielen said on Monday. "Throughout practices, all the OTA practices, the training camp practices, you start to build trust and you see kind of what their intentions, their direction that they want to take this offense. And you see that there's a plan and a purpose for everything that they're doing."
View exclusive behind-the-scenes photos shot by Vikings team photographers Andy Kenutis, Alli Rusco and Kayla Plummer during the Vikings-Packers season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Thielen added another factor in the ability to build trust with O'Connell is the confidence and joy he brings to the game.
"The way that he calls plays, the confidence that he had installing the plays and how him and his staff were going to make this our offense," Thielen said. "And then just his love for the game. When you're on the football field with him, you can tell how much he loves it, how detailed he is, how creative he can be, and how he just wants to have success. It's pretty cool to be around that. It just kind of pushes you a little bit, and you've gotta have great leaders like that, that love the game and love to be around the guys and love to be on the football field.
"I remember in OTAs, he couldn't wait to get on the practice field before we started the OTA practices," Thielen continued. "You could just see his energy when we finally got on the field because he loves football so much."
Not only has O'Connell had to build trust with his players, but a new coaching staff as well. One coach that O'Connell has a ton of familiarity with, though, is Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips. Phillips was with Washington and the Los Angeles Rams alongside O'Connell as a tight ends coach.
O'Connell said it was nice to have that trust with Phillips while calling plays on Sunday but acknowledged he still has things to work on when he's on the sidelines.
"One of the things that I think I can do better of moving forward is when the defense is out there, I've got to be in certain locations on the field to have an impact with the refs and timeouts and things like that," O'Connell said. "I can't just spend 10 minutes over there talking to Kirk or talking to Wes and looking at the [Microsoft] Surface, I've got to really rely on all of our staff and rely on the 'pick my spots' to make sure I'm still being constantly available to do my job as the head coach first and foremost. But having Wes is huge for me here, having Wes leading the charge for our offense throughout the week, making sure we're right where we want to be in our lead-up to each game."
As the Vikings look ahead toward Week 2 and visiting Philadelphia for Minnesota's first road game of 2022, O'Connell said he needs to "constantly be conveying that messaging" to his players and continuing to build their trust.
"All of our culture and all of our things that matter so much to me on a daily basis, to me, those games give you a great platform to really see what the reality is versus maybe what the perception may be in your mind," O'Connell said. "And then going back to our team and being as honest as ever with them about where we're at, where we need to get to and then what lies ahead for us as a group."