EAGAN, Minn. — Take a deep breath and exhale.
But not too deep.
There's Arctic air, and a big to-do list awaits Kevin O'Connell.
An incredible week for the new Vikings head coach is coming to a close.
Sunday he helped the Rams execute a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVI, securing a 23-20 victory in their home venue.
The celebration for Los Angeles extended into Monday. The day after the Rams season ended on top of the mountain also was the first time that Minnesota could begin negotiating O'Connell's contract to make him the 10th head coach in Vikings history.
The deal was finalized Wednesday morning before O'Connell — the Rams offensive coordinator the past two seasons — joined the Rams victory parade.
He and his family boarded a private plane provided by the Wilf family ownership group of the Vikings that evening in SoCal. It touched down in St. Paul late Wednesday, and O'Connell was introduced to Twin Cities media members Thursday evening at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. (Be sure to check out colleague Eric Smith's 5 Takeaways from O'Connell's first press conference).
O'Connell waved to his family as he took the temporary stage inside the Indoor Practice Facility. The 36-year-old sincerely expressed gratitude for the sacrifices they made during his fast trek to becoming one of 32.
His wife, Leah, their three children, Kevin's parents and Leah's parents traveled to Minnesota. They all watched as he beamed broadly and spoke candidly when asked to sum up the balancing act between being his best during the Rams title quest and while interviewing for the Vikings job.
"Quite honestly, it was one of the more challenging months of my life, going back to when the playoffs first started, but probably one of the most rewarding," O'Connell said. "I think through that whole process, the number one thing I always wanted to maintain was my focus on the task at hand."
He described the daunting preparation of facing NFC West foes Arizona (in the Wild Card round) and San Francisco (in the NFC Championship Game) for a third time since the 2021 season kicked off. The Divisional Round also required slaying the defending champion dragon on short rest at Tampa Bay before snapping a six-game losing streak to the 49ers.
Cincinnati surged through the AFC Playoffs, securing their first, second and third playoff victories since Jan. 6, 1991, and led 20-16 with 5:00 remaining before Cooper Kupp rushed for a gain of 7 on fourth-and-1. The run by the receiver was one of several key clutch plays down the stretch.
"It was an incredible challenge, but I can tell you that my number-one priority was always winning that next game," O'Connell said. "I kept talking to our quarterbacks about each individual aspect of winning the next game. 'Our preparation would lead us to giving us an opportunity to go play with a quieted mind and have success,' and I was talking to myself as much as anybody."
O'Connell maintained his commitment to the Rams, the Vikings exercised patience and enjoyed watching their future coach from afar.
Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf said: "It was great to be along for his journey of winning [the Super Bowl], and I saw in him the ability to come here and do the same thing. That was very exciting to see him there and come to that final goal that we're always reaching for, and I think with the group that we have here, we'll do that."
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf added: "The last month has been quite a ride, but the professionalism, how he balanced a lot of things going through all of this just impressed even more, and of course, the success is obvious."
New Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who was hired Jan. 26, credited O'Connell for being "incredibly bright with a calm demeanor through adversity."
"He is well-regarded across the league for his genuine personality almost as much as his football acumen," Adofo-Mensah said when introducing O'Connell Thursday. "He is committed to building a championship culture through positivity and purpose. One of Kevin's best attributes is his ability to communicate complexity in a simple and relatable way. Like some of the best football minds I've been around, the way he talks about football is very visual, simple and clear."
The arduous process of hiring a new head coach and general manager began Jan. 10, the day after Minnesota finished 8-9, which included a 30-23 loss in a must-win home game against Los Angeles the previous month.
An internal and external search committee began initial interviews for the general manager position on Jan. 16, including Adofo-Mensah on Jan. 17.
Realizing that the Rams could go all the way to the Super Bowl, the committee also made sure to request initial interviews with O'Connell and Rams Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris on Jan. 21 (during the permitted window allowed by NFL rules).
Adofo-Mensah appeared alongside Mark Wilf on the same stage for an introductory press conference on Jan. 27 before quickly ramping up his involvement with the Vikings head coach search committee. Working with the crew that had selected him, Adofo-Mensah participated in multiple interviews, including with O'Connell and Morris in Los Angeles.
"When there are big decisions in life, a lot of times you like to think back, 'Was there a moment when you sort of knew?' I … was thinking about the second-round interview. We were talking about offensive philosophy, personnel, player evaluations, and it was like I was talking with one of my close football friends who I've spent hours and hours upon hours with, and this was an hour into the interview. It was just so natural.
"Everybody else that was in that interview said it right after, that the connection, the energy was incredible there, and upon reflection, I think in that moment I probably knew myself," Adofo-Mensah said. "I'm extremely pleased with the thorough and detailed process we went through. I think we interviewed multiple future head coaches, but we're excited about the guy sitting next to me and what we have."
Mark Wilf said the Vikings cast a "really wide net" and evaluated "a lot of great coaching candidates" during the process. The virtual interviews were helpful ahead of the in-person sessions.
"You could see the collaboration between Kwesi and Kevin right off the bat," Wilf said. "Just the energy, talking football, running through the plays."
Between his initial interview, which O'Connell perceived as going well, he kept an eye on the team's decision at GM. He said the "chance to partner with Kwesi was one of the huge draws to this job."
"We've known from day one that we're going to be able to collaborate, communicate with one another and build a culture here that the players will feel," O'Connell said. "They'll feel a connectedness between obviously your staff and our coaching staff, and that will only lead to the players feeling as connected as they've ever been to a coaching staff before."
One day after confirming O'Connell's hire, the Vikings announced the addition of nine assistants, including Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell.
The collaboration between O'Connell, Adofo-Mensah quickly deployed because of a shared vision.
"I think that's why the interview process is a special time," O'Connell said. "Because if you're truly meaning what you say and you're truly believing what you say and that's truly your vision for how you want your staff to look, the culture to be built, you feel comfortable allowing others to start to carry out that vision for you.
"They've been phenomenal here, supporting me throughout that whole time leading up to and past the Super Bowl, but I can tell you when I got here [Wednesday] night, when my family and I arrived, there's nobody more excited to turn the page and get going than me."