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Monday Morning Mailbag: The Kevin O'Connell Era Begins in Minnesota

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag, which is presented by FedEx. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

You can also send Eric a Mailbag question via Twitter.

When is Kevin O'Connell going to be officially introduced? Would like to hear from him and what his vision/goals are for the team. Have heard rumors he may stay with the Rams, any truth to that?

— John Heil

BIG NEWS! Kevin O'Connell is the new Vikings head coach!

If you're reading this, you probably already know that. But because of NFL rules, the Vikings couldn't announce O'Connell as their guy until after Super Bowl LVI.

And because of those stipulations, that meant back-to-back Monday Morning Mailbags without a mention of O'Connell, even if he was at the forefront of many minds inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center over the past two weeks.

As for his introduction, that came late Thursday afternoon at the team facility.

If you're looking for the biggest takeaways from that nearly 45-minute session, including his thoughts on calling offensive plays and quarterback Kirk Cousins, you can find those here.

If you ask me, he knocked the opening press conference out of the park, much like new Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did. (And as I wrote after Adofo-Mensah's press conference, that's certainly a good start, but now the real work begins).

In terms of his goals and vision for the team, it's clear that he will bring a needed energy and fresh voice to the Vikings.

But there will also be a major focus on collaboration — undoubtedly the biggest buzzword of the offseason in Minnesota — and a mantra that will perhaps include more player involvement than we've seen in recent years.

View photos of new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell during his first day at the TCO Performance Center on Feb. 17.

O'Connell spoke Thursday about his approach, and the culture and vibe he wants for his team.

"Consistency is everything that we do in this league. It's too hard to win," O'Connell said. "It's too hard with the challenges you face throughout a season to not allow your players to see the same exact guy standing up in front of them every single day.

"It'll be a hallmark of what I want to do here as my first time being a head coach. I think we'll set a tone and create a culture here where players will want to be around us," O'Connell added. "They'll want to be around their coaches. They'll want to be in the building. This special, special facility is only special if there's players inside it working on a daily basis to have the success that we're going to help them have."

Finally, as for the perception that O'Connell wasn't going to come to Minnesota, I'll say this.

There's a reason I stay off Twitter at times, simply for peace of mind and for the betterment of my mental health.

If you get caught up chasing down every single hint of a rumor — and there are thousands of them every day on Twitter — you might just wonder where you day went.

O'Connell is the Vikings head coach, and the perception I gleaned Thursday is that there was nowhere else he would have rather been.

View photos of new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell during his introductory press conference with the media on Feb. 17 at the TCO Performance Center.

With the announcement of Kevin O'Connell as head coach, did the Vikings get better or worse? I really think the sports writers sold the fans a bill of goods on Mike Zimmer. I am hoping we get better, but fear the [Les] Steckel, [Mike] Tice, and [Leslie] Frazier changes. The 2021 Vikings team was not as bad as the record indicated. There were mistakes on everyone: players (on the field), coaching, and front office, plus add in injuries and COVID, just a lot of bad luck. All that said, I will still be cheering for the Vikings, the team I have invested 52 years in.

— Mike Boswell in Goodwin, South Dakota

Another good inquiry from Mike, who regularly sends in measured and interesting emails.

Let's break it down.

Will the Vikings be better than their 8-9 record from 2021? That remains to be seen and will depend on what personnel moves and roster construction approach Adofo-Mensah, O'Connell and the rest of Minnesota's front office takes this spring and summer.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, there are still multiple strong pieces in place here on the roster.

And a quick aside on the 2021 Vikings not being as bad as their record indicated, it's also worth pointing out that the Vikings had point differential of minus-1 this past season, which ranked 18th in the league.

I get many emails saying that if the Vikings had just won close games against the Bengals, Cardinals, Ravens or Lions — all of which were decided by three or fewer points — then Minnesota would have been a double-digit win team and in the postseason.

But the Vikings also notched wins against the Lions, Panthers and Packers that came by six or fewer points. If those happen to swing the other way, then we're talking about a five-win team that's picking near the Top 5 of the draft.

All of that is to say that the Vikings were who they were in 2021: a talented yet inconsistent bunch that landed likely right where they should have in terms of stats and rankings.

One thing I can promise you about the 2022 version is that there will be an excitement and energy around the team that had been missing in recent seasons.

O'Connell seems like a polar opposite of Zimmer in multiple ways, including his offensive background, younger age and an NFL playing background.

Time will tell if the Vikings will be better in 2022 than they were in 2021. But I'd also caution fans to keep some faith if they aren't.

It felt in recent years, based on roster moves and other decisions, that the Vikings were a bit in win-now mode.

The Vikings certainly want to be competitive this coming season, but there's also a known expectation that O'Connell was brought here to build something bright for the future, too.

The Vikings will be finalizing their coaching staff, but I was disappointed that they aren't going to retain Andre Patterson and Ryan Ficken as previous assistant coaches. Which coaches, if any, from 2021 will they bring back? Thanks!

— Steve in Chino Hills, California

Steve's email touches on what is undoubtedly the worst part of a coaching change.

Even as someone who thought making leaderships changes was the right move for the team this offseason, there's an understanding that those changes also mean the departures of some familiar and trusted faces.

Patterson is one of the most well-respected people (not coaches, people) that I have seen in my six-plus years of working in the NFL. He is appreciated by all of who know him for the leadership he brings on and away from the football field. Patterson helped spearhead the organization's Social Justice Committee in recent years, and his passion for making the world a better place will be missed.

View photos of new Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell in photos from his time with the Broncos.

He's also one of the best defensive line coaches in the league and will likely elevate the Giants defense now that he's in New York. His ability to make players better was always on display, as was his measured approach that made him able to connect with every player in his position room or on the defensive side of the ball.

I will miss Patterson's weekly press conferences, which I seemingly always walked away from feeling like I had learned something.

As for Ficken, he was one of my favorite coaches from the moment I walked into Winter Park. We bonded over both attending Arizona State and loved chatting about our respective college memories and discussing the state of Sun Devils football.

He was also one of the easiest people to root for in the building, especially when he took over as the special teams coordinator in 2021. He took a unit that was downright awful in 2020 and turned them into a consistent and dynamic unit that helped swing the field and also put points on the board this past season.

I have no doubt he will continue to ascend now that he's with the Chargers, and I'll still continue pulling for him from afar.

View photos of new Vikings Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine in photos from his time with the Packers and Browns.

Again, this is one of the worst parts of this business. And it's why I wrote weeks ago that we should always remember that there are human beings with families that are impacted by these changes.

But when a new head coach comes in, it's almost a given that they'll want to bring in a new staff. Zimmer did the same thing in 2014, so we can't be surprised when O'Connell is doing the same thing now.

As for who will be back, Keenan McCardell will be, for sure. And given his relationship and rapport with Justin Jefferson, that was likely to be expected.

Jefferson publicly campaigned for McCardell's return on social media, and Adam Thielen also heaped praised on his position coach in recent months.

I touched above on how O'Connell wants a collaborative and cohesive culture, and that extends to the coaching staff.

"I will not hire a coach that will not connect on a 1-on-1 basis with their players in their rooms," O'Connell said Thursday.

McCardell, a former player who knows the rigors of being in the league, did that and more in 2021 with Jefferson, Thielen, K.J. Osborn and that whole group.

And it's a key factor why he's back in Purple in 2022.

Hi, just wondering if you could explain what exactly O'Connell did as the Rams OC? Most are saying Sean McVay designs and calls the plays…

— Charles in SoCal

Those people are (mostly) correct that McVay called the Rams offensive plays, and there's no doubt his fingerprints and visions were all over one of the league's top offenses the past few years.

That said, give O'Connell some credit here, too. There's only two people on all 32 coaching staffs that call plays — one for offense and one for defense.

And while those people usually get the credit (or blame) depending on how things go, it's almost always a true collective effort on putting together the game plan, ironing out the minor details and even diving into play calls on game day.

I'd be willing to bet O'Connell had a strong hand in devising the Rams offensive game plan the past two seasons, and may have even called some plays that we don't know about in games. If anything, it's a safe bet he mentally called games in his head to get a feel and flow for what he'd do if he ever earned a chance to do that with a team of his own.

O'Connell now has that chance with the Vikings, and he'll also have the opportunity to put his own stamp on his own offense, even if he did say that there will be numerous offensive principles and philosophies he brings over from the past two seasons with Los Angeles.

Two quick final notes on O'Connell's involvement in the Rams offense.

First, everybody becomes a full-time play caller for the first time at some point in their coaching career. Sometimes it comes as a coordinator and sometimes it comes as a head coach. O'Connell's time happens to coincide with the latter.

Finally, go back and watch the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVI. The Rams were trailing and knew they were headed for a make-or-break offensive drive.

Stafford would soon step on the field, putting together the signature drive of his career. He completed seven of 11 passes for 57 yards, including the eventual game-winning, 1-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp.

Yet as the TV cameras found quarterback Matthew Stafford on the sideline before that drive, there was also a man that was always seemingly right there in the shot with him. That man chatted with him, certainly going over plays that Stafford liked, what to expect from the Bengals defense and making sure the quarterback was prepared for the challenges ahead.

That man was new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell.