A youthful and collaborative thinker, Kevin O’Connell’s first five months with the Minnesota Vikings have been graced with a honeymoon atmosphere — outside the two nights when his boss traded with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
It’s optimism aplenty from Vikings fans about the new head coach, who is tasked with lifting the team from a two-year commitment to mediocrity in 2020 and 2021 to playoff contention in 2022. Along the way, O’Connell has been considered a beacon of positivity, always commenting in an upbeat nature — a sharp contrast to the Vikings previous brand leadership that was hardnosed and “old school.”
Onlookers of the franchise foresee an ambient shift for the Vikings, while some offseason entities aren’t sold on O’Connell as the right choice. For instance, back in June, Pro Football Network called O’Connell the worst coach in the league in its head coach power rankings — before the Vikings new skipper even coached a game. Mike Kaye from PFN explained the last-in-the-NFL designation, “Kevin O’Connell, despite being a former NFL QB and coordinator, is the mystery man among the head-coaching ranks. While the Vikings kept their roster mostly in place, O’Connell will clearly bring his own ideas to the table. O’Connell is a true wild card, for better or worse.”
Well, in an interesting and drastic change of pace, that ‘worst coach in the NFL’ is the odds-on favorite to win the NFL’s Coach of the Year award, according to the sportsbook Bovada. That’s right. With Brian Daboll (Giants), Nathaniel Hackett (Broncos), Mick McDaniel (Dolphins), and Brandon Staley (Chargers) nipping at his heels, O’Connell’s is considered the frontrunner (with a +1200 moneyline) to win Coach of the Year.
The “bias” from Bovada is apparent toward first-year coaches. Matt LaFleur from the Packers coaches his team to a division title annually, and his odds are puny compared to O’Connell’s. Still, the schism between O’Connell’s PFN reputation and wagering odds is striking.
In the end, O’Connell will likely land somewhere in the middle of both forecasts. Winning Coach of the Year will likely require an 11-6 or 12-5 record at minimum. On the flip side, he’d have to engineer the Vikings to a terrible 2022 season — in the ballpark of 5-12 — to vindicate PFN.
But O’Connell has a few items on his side to get closer to the Bovada prophecy. Last year, the Vikings tied an NFL record for games decided by eight or fewer points with 14. Minnesota finished 8-9 in 2021, so it’s not a dreadful depth chart needing fundamental repair.
Vikings brass hired O’Connell to be the anti-Zimmer, whisking the enterprise into the modern NFL with offense-first thinking meanwhile creating a communal culture not riddled with stubbornness. O’Connell doesn’t have to “start over” as Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and Patrick Peterson are already at his disposal.
And Bovada evidently believes he’ll make those players click, with a fancy Coach of the Year trophy on the line for the 37-year-old.
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).