When the Minnesota Vikings moved on from the former general manager and head coach tandem, the franchise’s ownership promised an era of collaboration among executives, coaches, and players.
And so far, with training camp a few days old, the new head coach is walking the walk.
Kevin O’Connell worked with QB Kirk Cousins in Washington, serving as the team quarterbacks coach in 2017. So, based on a prior relationship, the new skipper “has the ear” of Cousins — and vice versa. O’Connell was likely chosen as Minnesota’s coach, in part, because of his preexisting ties to Cousins. Or, at the very least, it was a tremendous perk during the interview process. Now, the two men must re-align in purple and gold clothes, starting this week in Eagan and culminating versus the Green Bay Packers in Week 1.
The two are off to a promising start.
O’Connell confirmed collaboration city is the goal, mentioning the continuation of his bond with Cousins on Thursday. The ex-Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator told reporters about himself and Cousins, “The quarterback has to be an extension of you as a head coach.”
As a standalone declaration, the quote is not newsworthy. Indeed, quarterbacks and head coaches should be philosophically united. Yet, Cousins and former head coach Mike Zimmer never appeared entirely on the same page. Minneapolis media entities even attempted to drive a wedge between the two because of their unorthodox relationship.
The Vikings signed Cousins in 2018 — four years ago. It wasn’t until Year Four that Cousins and Zimmer began meeting regularly, according to reports from 2021. Film sessions among the HC and QB shouldn’t be a novel concept, but Zimmer was evidently late to the party in effectuating them with Cousins.
That’s why O’Connell’s “extension of you as head coach” comment feels strange and overdue. Ask yourself, did Cousins feel like an extension of Zimmer? Not really.
Zimmer banked on a hellfire defense — which actually existed from 2014 to 2019 — a run-first offensive attack, and a quarterback who turned the ball over minimally. All three items were prevalent in the Vikings eight seasons with Zimmer. However, when Cousins was onboarded, he was granted a hefty sack of cash per year, meaning his job title wasn’t only to minimize turnovers. He was signed in free agency in 2018 to be prolific. As much as Zimmer allowed it, Cousins has been quite productive, tallying the fifth-most touchdown passes in the NFL (124) since his arrival in Minnesota.
With O’Connell, Cousins has an opportunity to flourish even more. If Cousins never truly was an extension of Zimmer — or if Zimmer purposefully desired to “keep a lid on it” as to avoid mistakes — imagine the possibilities with a head coach who encourages to quarterback to let her rip. That is the end-game of the O’Connell and Cousins marriage, unlocking Cousins like O’Connell and his boss from the Rams, Sean McVay, did with Matthew Stafford in Los Angeles.
Moreover, the one-on-one sessions between O’Connell and Cousins have already started.
Ultimately, the plan from Vikings ownership is coming together — an offense-first coach is preaching collaborative offense-first principles.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).