Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell is always ready to learn.
O'Connell's willingness to expand his knowledge stems much earlier than the 37-year-old navigating his way through his first season as an NFL head coach, though.
O'Connell has gone from being a star quarterback at San Diego State University to a backup in the NFL. He transitioned from a color commentator broadcasting college sports to a coach rising through the ranks and helping the Los Angeles Rams win Super Bowl LVI. Along his journey, O'Connell has not only learned, but he's made sure to help others every step of the way.
Alec Lewis of The Athletic recently spoke with several of O'Connell's former teammates, coaches and colleagues about their relationships with the current Vikings head coach and his path to get there.
At SDSU, O'Connell saw a change in coaching, with Del Miller stepping in as the team's offensive coordinator. Lewis wrote that Brett Swain, a wide receiver at SDSU and roommate of O'Connell, noticed the pressure of Miller's new scheme didn't faze his quarterback.
Swain recalled one week when O'Connell had to identify the types of coverages Portland State, their next opponent, preferred in certain situations. He alerted Swain to their tendencies, and that night Swain caught six passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Miller thought O'Connell's aptitude was a sign.
"We used to kid him: 'Someday you're going to end up governor of a state,'" Miller said. "He had that kind of personality."
When O'Connell reached the NFL with the New England Patriots in 2008, he thought he was preparing for a season filled with identifying protections and play-making decisions that typical rookie quarterbacks endure. Then Patriots starter Tom Brady tore his ACL in the team's season opener, and O'Connell was immediately thrust into a backup role behind Matt Cassel.
Lewis said O'Connell was always there for Cassel, and the two formed a close bond. He wrote:
In some instances, O'Connell pored through film, analyzing red zone and third-down situations so that Cassel could focus on another facet of the opponent. At other times, O'Connell sat inside the meeting rooms and listened as Cassel vented.
"I always knew he had my back," Cassel said. "There's other guys where you feel like, look, they're trying to fight to take your job. He always worked hard and wanted to be ready to go, but I always felt like he had my best interests in mind."
After bouncing around the league with six different teams, O'Connell retired in 2012 and launched a career as a color commentator.
O'Connell's success as an analyst led him to offering his insight to college players trying to reach the pro stage. Lewis wrote George Whitfield, Jr., who was a private quarterbacks coach at the time, recruited O'Connell to talk with the players:
Whitfield told O'Connell he had a few quarterbacks scheduled for a pre-draft camp: Johnny Manziel and Logan Thomas. O'Connell agreed to come aboard on the spot. Months later, O'Connell was standing before them in a makeshift classroom, drawing up coverages on the whiteboard as preparation for their pre-draft interviews.
"Bringing on Kevin was easily one of the smartest things I've done," Whitfield said.
O'Connell then rejoined the NFL in 2015, this time as a quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns. Quarterback Josh McCown was considering Cleveland as an option for his next team that year, but was unsure of O'Connell's coaching ability.
One conversation with O'Connell changed McCown's mind.
"It took less than 10 minutes to go, 'This dude is sharp,'" McCown said. "Like, he gets it. All the way around. I knew he could help me."
Lewis said that O'Connell's first season as a coach in the NFL paved the way for other opportunities for him.
View photos of new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell during his first day at the TCO Performance Center on Feb. 17.
After stints of overseeing special projects in San Francisco (2016) and as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with Washington (2017-2019), O'Connell joined the Rams Head Coach Sean McVay's staff in 2020 as their offensive coordinator. Two seasons later, the Rams won Super Bowl LVI.
As O'Connell prepares for his first regular season at the helm, Lewis said those who have seen O'Connell's journey know he will only continue to rise.
"I think he actually moved up a concept from being a governor," Miller said. "Being the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings already? That's a move upward."
Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson on Record Watch Entering 2022 Season
Some records in sports will never be reached. Others are meant to be broken.
Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports recently looked at more than 100 NFL records that could be shattered this season.
Two Minnesota Vikings players, quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver Justin Jefferson, are among Kerr's list that have a chance to get into the record books.
Kerr said Cousins is 25 touchdown passes shy of becoming the fifth player in NFL history to accomplish that mark in at least eight straight seasons. Cousins would join Peyton Manning (13), Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers (11) and Tom Brady (10).
Kerr added Cousins also needs a passer rating of 100 or higher this season (with a minimum of 300 attempts) to become the fourth player to achieve the number in four straight seasons. He would join Brees (2015-2020), Aaron Rodgers (2009-2012) and Russell Wilson (2018-2021).
For Jefferson, Kerr said the wide receiver will need 1,148 yards to pass former Viking Randy Moss (4,163) for the most receiving yards in a player's first three years in NFL history. Jefferson is currently at 3,016 yards through two seasons.
Kerr added if Jefferson reaches 1,400 receiving yards, he will be the first player in NFL history to accomplish the mark in each of his first three seasons.
Kerr also said Jefferson needs 104 receptions to join both Michael Thomas (321) and Christian McCaffrey (303) with at least 300 catches in their first three seasons. Jefferson currently has 196 receptions.
Finally, Kerr noted Jefferson (14 games) needs six games of 100 receiving yards or more to pass Odell Beckham, Jr., and Moss (both at 19 games) for most games with that feat through their first three seasons.