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Monday Morning Mailbag: Outlook for O'Connell as First-Year Head Coach

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I read in the July 18 Mailbag about no national hype for the Vikings. Could one reason be the average win totals for first-year head coaches? What is the average win total for first-year head coaches and first-year head coaches with a first-year GM? What is the first-year record for coaches from the coaching tree of Sean McVay?

— Mike Haugse in Stillman Valley, Illinois

Welcome everyone to the opening week of 2022 Vikings Training Camp. Much work already has been done by first-year General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, but many will see the opening of camp as the dawn of their era.

As I pointed out last week, it's not the worst thing for a team to fly under the radar at this point of the year. Every team will have the opportunity to earn itself more publicity for good play.

I liked several elements of Mike's inquiry and always enjoy a bit of research, so I backpedaled to the 2017 hiring season, which included Los Angeles tabbing McVay and will allow us to take a look at what has happened among coaches in the past five hiring cycles.

McVay, Sean McDermott and Kyle Shanahan were among the hires in 2017 and are the only three of the six-coach class who remain. They also are tied for the sixth-longest tenures among current head coaches.

I put together the chart below of the 31 head coaches hired between 2017-21, but I did not isolate for first-year general managers because there are so many other factors that can be in play (status at QB, health of roster, cap space heading into first year, etc.).


The coaches in the chart combined for 215 victories, which is an average of 6.94.

Taylor, LaFleur and Staley are considered members of the McVay tree along with O'Connell. That trio combined for 24 wins across their first seasons for an average of 8.0.

Of the 31 hires, 17 remain with their teams (54.8 percent). Eight of the 17 still with their teams had previously been an offensive coordinator and/or head coach in the NFL, two had been an offensive coordinator and head coach in college, and three others had been an NFL offensive assistant.

The five who posted double-digit wins in their first full seasons (Marrone was 1-1 at the end of 2016) had prior experience as an NFL offensive coordinator.

O'Connell spent the past two seasons as offensive coordinator of the Rams, who received their Super Bowl LVI rings last week. He held the same role with Washington in 2019.

What does all of this mean for him and the 2022 Vikings? We'll find out as one of 10 new head coaches this year leads his team at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

View photos of the Vikings 2022 coaching staff.

So, the Wilfs completed the overhaul. A complete change of the leadership and support staff seems to have taken place with a few exceptions. The GM traded high-round picks in the draft to division rivals. The defense will change to a base 3-4. To which, we may not have the depth or starting personnel to support. The offense will probably change to a pass-first offense if the relatively inexperienced head coach is bringing his old team's philosophy to Minnesota. He, to my knowledge, has never called offensive plays before this season. Nor has the offensive coordinator. There has been a new buzzword from the leadership: collaboration! This was to appease the players who didn't care for the previous regime's style. Call me skeptical, but I am not as enamored with the new regime based on some of the moves they have made, even before the season begins. The credentials of the leadership are minimal, at best. With all the changes on leadership and philosophy, I am afraid that the new staff are in over their heads. I do hope I am wrong and the team is successful this season. But the bar is set high. The Packers brought in a young coach and have had success for the last three seasons. Give me a reason to have some optimism, beyond the fact that this unproven staff has a new way of doing things?

I have been a fan since 1969, and this is the first time I have had so little faith in the direction of the team.

Here's hoping I am wrong!

— J. Haley

A lot to unpack here — will try to cover all the basics.

It's been about three months since the Vikings swapped picks with the Lions on the first night and Packers on the second night. I don't expect those who didn't like those dance partners to be happy about it anytime soon, but we just don't know how trades shake out for a few years. The topic was a frequent point of contention from fans in May, but I'll refer to what Adofo-Mensah previously said. He approached the deals without emotions and evaluated the proposals against the alternatives of the teams he wound up trading with making deals with other teams in the neighborhood. The choices were: make the trade and acquire compensation; or don't make the trade and watch as some other team makes a swap with a division foe. Ultimately, Lewis Cine wound up still being on the board at 32, and the Vikings had draft capital to better navigate the board on the second day of the draft.

View photos of all members from the Vikings 2022 NFL Draft class sign their rookie contracts.

As for the shift to the 3-4, Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has been coaching for more than 30 years, and there's a lot of proven experience on that side of the football. Transitions like going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base aren't easy, but the Vikings have had some success dabbling in some 3-4 principles recently. The health of Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith — a pair of Pro Bowl edge defenders — will be key. Smith's surge when healthy in Green Bay should be a cause for optimism.

Although O'Connell did not call plays while with the Rams (McVay did), I would point to his experience in other facets of the game, the fact that he was a backup quarterback who provided information valued by his own teams' defensive coaches to the point that Mike Pettine later hired O'Connell to be his quarterbacks coach in Cleveland in 2015.

Collaboration can come across as a buzzword until you see it practiced authentically. Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell brought their staffs together through the offseason, and the Vikings went through numerous teambuilding exercises this spring. We've tried to relay concrete examples of collaboration so far without blowing smoke in our stories on I also would not be in a hurry to refer to the rest of the offensive staff as "inexperienced."

The Vikings roster is in good shape. Minnesota returned starters at all offensive skill positions and has a young core on the offensive line to build around, particularly with tackles Brian O'Neill and Christian Darrisaw. The defense has a blend of impressive veterans, players who may still be ascending and youngsters with opportunities.

Does that mean that O'Connell can join the five coaches hired since 2017 who recorded double-digit wins in their first seasons? We'll see. It's OK to be skeptical, but I always prefer a baseline of cautiously optimistic this time of year.

I have been a fan since the Vikings entered the league. The two worst trades ever: No. 1 Kirk Cousins; No. 2 Herschel Walker. I did not think you could ever do worse than Herschel Walker. Please get a quarterback.

— Brian Joachim

Just read where one of your Mailbag contacts talked about Kirk Cousins running scared. I would be too with the performance of this offensive line. We have a premium QB, WRs and running RB. This line gets overrun [against] the pass rush. To succeed, they need to fix that line.

— Gene Draper

Do you believe the Vikings need to fix their QB situation? Make [Sean] Mannion an assistant coach, [Kellen] Mond becomes No. 2 and get one more FA?

— Dan Schroeder

Ah, yes, more consternation about the quarterback position — the undisputed champ of offseason banter and circular arguments. Another email that hit the inbox about the position used too much profanity for this space.

Pointing out the technicality first, Cousins joined Minnesota as a free agent, and the signing was lauded by pundits and evaluators from coast-to-coast in 2018. His statistical production has been at or better in most metrics than it was with Washington.

The Vikings, however, have not been able to duplicate the success they had in 2017, which is one of the best seasons in franchise history, and Cousins has shouldered plenty of blame — some deserved and some undeserved.

The new regime is setting out to maximize the effectiveness of every player on the roster toward team success. Part of that is accentuating skills and occasionally hiding aspects of players' games that aren't 99s in "Madden."

Hopefully, the Vikings never come close to topping the Walker trade.

The Vikings acquired the 27-year-old running back in October 1989, along with three picks in 1990 (third, fifth and 10th rounds) and a third-round pick in 1991 used on Jake Reed.

The Cowboys acquired Jesse Solomon, David Howard, Issiac Holt, Darrin Nelson, Alex Stewart and eight picks between 1990-92, including first- and second-rounders in each of those years.

Walker scored 20 rushing touchdowns (10 in 1991) during his 42 games with Minnesota, but he averaged 53.9 rushing yards per game — certainly not worth mortgaging the future nor setting up Dallas for its dynastic run in the early '90s.


2022 Vikings Training Camp

Find out everything you need to know about Vikings Training Camp including schedule, tickets, activities and more.

To Gene's point, quarterbacks usually play better as pass protection gets better and better. Sure there are a few in the NFL who can Houdini themselves out of trouble more than others, but those are rare for a reason.

I'm interested to see Cousins have an opportunity with so many former quarterbacks on the coaching staff and in this system with such a strong cast. The Vikings have room for improvement at multiple positions and aspects of the game, including in pass protection.

Regarding Dan's question, Cousins has missed one game since joining Minnesota (aside from the coaching decision at the end of 2019), so the Vikings haven't had to rely very much on a backup playing. He again is the undisputed starter and has a history of good health that he supports through a lot of hard work and dedication behind the scenes.

One of the biggest takeaways in comparing years I covered the Titans and since I started with the Vikings in 2014 is how much of a difference it makes to enter a training camp with the starting QB already decided.

Minnesota can instead evaluate its approach to the backup QB spot and decide if it wants to keep two or three quarterbacks. Spotrac has a short list of veteran free agent QBs.

Mannion has been sort of an assistant behind the scenes, helping Cousins with weekly preparations during his time with the Vikings. Mond got a bit of an introduction to the NFL last season, but I'd put him in the top handful of players who might benefit the most from Minnesota's change in leadership. The number of former quarterbacks (at various levels) on the coaching staff will be good for him.

The Vikings could proceed as they have, opening with three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, or they could try to go with two players at the position. Roster math — depth at other positions or availability after cuts — could affect this. O'Connell's experience as a backup quarterback should be quite helpful.