EAGAN, Minn. — Kevin O'Connell is the new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
And the energy and excitement brought by his arrival were palpable inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Thursday afternoon.
O'Connell was introduced as the 10th head coach in team history, and he brought quite the positive vibe with him.
"It's such an unbelievable opportunity for me to be sitting up in front of you today," O'Connell said. "I am incredibly humbled by this, to know that you get the opportunity to lead an organization, an organization that has tremendous history, an organization that's had tremendous success on the field and in this community."
O'Connell, who spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Rams, helped Los Angeles to a 23-20 win in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday over Cincinnati.
O'Connell said he wants to replicate the success the Rams just had and implement what he learned from Rams Head Coach Sean McVay.
"He's had a huge impact on me the last two years, but even going back beyond that, I've learned so much from him about the type of team and culture that I want to build," O'Connell said. "But he is truly a remarkable man, a remarkable leader.
"I hope to bring a lot of those characteristics to our football team here that he's instilled that just helped us win a world championship," O'Connell added.
Hall of Famers Bud Grant, John Randle and Randall McDaniel were on hand, as was Vikings Ring of Honor member Scott Studwell and dozens of other Vikings staff members.
O'Connell thanked many people along the way in his football journey, including his family, before laying out his vision for what he wants the Vikings to look like on and off the field.
"I hope the message of my enthusiasm and excitement comes through, but I can tell you firsthand I cannot wait," O'Connell said. "From the moment this press conference ends we're going upstairs and we're getting started, finishing our staff like I said, and then we'll get to implementing all the great things we're going to do here."
Here are four more takeaways from O'Connell's introductory press conference:
1. He will call the offensive plays
Perhaps this isn't a surprise, but O'Connell will call the Vikings offensive plays as the head coach.
While he wasn't the sole play caller with the Rams, O'Connell helped design Los Angeles' offense and was a key part of their offensive success.
And while O'Connell, a 2008 a third-round pick by New England, didn't have an illustrious playing career, he learned plenty over a few seasons in the NFL that he hopes will translate to Minnesota's offense.
"I think it's funny you ask that because I've used this joke before, but my career as a player provided a great platform for me as a coach because I did spend a lot of time watching games from the sideline," O'Connell said. "But I will say that with that comes the ability to see the game in a way that I feel very prepared to call the game.
"I feel like I've been around one of the best play callers in the NFL over the last couple years [in McVay], and obviously the system we run here will have a lot of characteristics of what we did in Los Angeles, the ability to have that attacking mindset, the ability to utilize our offense at the line of scrimmage," O'Connell added. "With that, you have to have ownership of what you're doing to call it, you have to have ownership of what you're doing at the quarterback position to run the offense, and I feel very strongly about the circumstances and situation here to be really prepared to do that."
O'Connell helped quarterback Matthew Stafford have one of the best seasons of his career in 2021, as Los Angeles went 12-5 and won the NFC West. The Rams also and finished in the top 10 in both points (27.1) and yards (372.1) per game.
2. Praise for Kirk Cousins
And speaking of quarterbacks, O'Connell fielded multiple questions on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Minnesota's starter for the past four seasons, Cousins is entering the final year of his current contract and is set to have a $45 million cap hit in 2022.
O'Connell has a history with Cousins, as the two worked together in Washington in 2017 when the former was the quarterbacks coach in 2017. Cousins threw for 4,091 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his lone season with O'Connell.
O'Connell was asked how Cousins will fit into his plans now that he is the head coach.
"I think Kirk has played at a very high level, and he's done a lot of really good things throughout his career," O'Connell said. "I know who he is as a player, and I know what he's capable of, and part of our job as coaches is maximizing a player's ability to go out every single Sunday and have success.
"I feel that's going to be an advantage for us as we build our system offensively, make sure we really focus on the things Kirk does well, which I do think are a lot of aspects of playing the position, and help him on a daily basis connect with his team, lead us, be a completely quieted-mind quarterback that can go play because he's talented enough to go do that, putting him in the best possible situations to have success," O'Connell added.
The follow-up question to O'Connell asked if Cousins is in the Vikings 2022 plans.
"Well, I know he's under contract and I'm excited to coach him," O'Connell said. "We've already started thinking about how we're going to build those systems for him and our other quarterbacks and really the tremendous skill group that we have, our guys up front.
"It takes all 11 to move the football on offense, to run it, to throw it, to score points in the red zone," O'Connell added. "But I'm anticipating Kirk being a part of what we do."
Cousins has thrown for 16,387 yards with 124 touchdowns and 36 interceptions in four seasons as the Vikings starting quarterback. He has a 33-29-1 record in 63 games.
3. An aggressive defensive mindset
While O'Connell will call Minnesota's offensive plays, that role on defense will presumably lie with Ed Donatell, who was announced Thursday as Minnesota's defensive coordinator.
O'Connell praised both Donatell's experience and scheme, which he lauded as one of the toughest to play against in recent seasons.
Donatell, who has experience with revered defensive mind Vic Fangio, will enter his 32nd season in the NFL in 2022.
View photos of new Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell in photos from his time with the Broncos.
O'Connell said he expects the Vikings defense to be an aggressive unit that focuses on taking the ball away.
"I definitely have a vision of what I want the defense to look like and play like," O'Connell said. "First and foremost, the core characteristics of playing good defense, which is guys flying around, a great tackling group.
"We're going to force turnovers with how we play from a scheme standpoint, but that's an effort thing. That's playing with great effort, sustaining that, finishing plays, making it about the football. That's part of our core football philosophy; number one, first and foremost, it's all about the ball," O'Connell added. "I think you lose games turning it over as an offense in this league before you ever give yourself a chance to win them. But defensively, the greatest defenses in this league not only stop people but they take the ball away, and that'll be a huge part of what Ed and our defensive staff tries to build from day one here."
As for what scheme the Vikings will run, O'Connell alluded to a 3-4 scheme, but noted the Vikings will certainly be diverse in their alignments, too.
Donatell ran a 3-4 scheme for the past three seasons in Denver (and was Fangio's defensive backs coach in Chicago prior to that), while Minnesota ran a 4-3 base system over the past eight years.
"I think depending on the defense you talk to, 81 percent of the time they're in nickel defense, which essentially is just a 4-3 with a fifth DB, I should say, in the game instead of a third linebacker," O'Connell said. "A lot of times a big thing is being multiple with your fronts because I know as an offensive coach if we know where you're going to be, we know where you're going to line up.
"That makes it pretty easy at least to design things to attack angles, understand how you want to run the ball, how you want to protect," O'Connell added. "But when you're changing that picture and forcing opponents to deal with multiple fronts during a game, during a drive in some cases, that can be a real weapon for a defense, pairing that with some really good things on the back end, that's kind of what we're hunting."
4. Collaboration and consistency
Perhaps the biggest buzz word surrounding the Vikings since they made major front-office changes on Jan. 10 is collaboration.
Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah brought up the word multiple times when he was introduced on Jan. 27.
O'Connell emphasized that he and Adofo-Mensah will work in tandem in bring success to Minnesota.
"Just knowing that the opportunity in front of us, I think the word collaboration speaks to the two guys you see sitting in front of you," O'Connell said as he sat next to Adofo-Mensah. "I think doing our job for the people that will work for us, our coaching staff and our personnel staff, we'll be letting those guys feel that immediate connection between the two of us, which will only allow our groups to connect.
"And then before you know it the players will be back in this building, and they're going to be the No. 1 people, the No. 1 group that feels that connection and collaboration because it really is a thing," O'Connell added. "I know the word has been used a lot, but it's been used a lot for a reason, and I hope people and fans understand that. We both believe in it. We have that shared vision, and I've been a part of something and I know he has, too, where when it's existed, a lot of really good things can happen."
View photos of new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell in photos from his time with the Rams.
O'Connell said he's already talked to multiple Vikings players, and said they will be the driving force.
The Vikings will be able to start their offseason program in early April, and he plans to be consistent for the team throughout the year.
"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."