In the early stages of his tenure, new Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell has already won over key members of the locker room.
“Just to have him come in and be a laid-back coach ready to change the whole program and get us back on that winning stage,” wide receiver Justin Jefferson said Tuesday, via the team’s official website. “We’re all excited. We’ve seen so many new faces here, so many new coaches. … We have so much potential in this team. We’re all ready to get this thing going again.”
Jefferson describing O’Connell as “laid back” stands in stark contrast to former coach Mike Zimmer’s rigid and austere style. As with most coaching hires, the Vikings went from one extreme to the other.
“Just because he’s close (in age) to us, he can connect with us more,” Jefferson added of O’Connell. “He’s got this younger vibe, so you know he’ll be playing music in the locker room, playing music in the meeting room before the meeting starts.
“It’s all about putting us in our comfort zone. It’s relaxed coming back to work. It’s not just about work. It’s about having fun doing what we love to do and focus.”
O’Connell’s coaching style will earn him points with a younger group of players. However, it’s his offensive acumen that could help transform the Vikes from a team that has continually failed in close games into an NFC contender.
“There’s a lot of different formations, moving guys around, putting guys in different places,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “I think some elements of the route are probably more player-friendly, just to be able to just go out there and feel the game, play the game. There’s a lot more feeling, rather than, ‘You gotta do this at this point, at this moment.
“Not to say there’s a wrong way to do it, it’s just different. Excited about that. Again, we haven’t really talked about games much, just kind of starting the basics in right now formations and just kind of terminology But from what I’ve seen from afar it’s definitely an offense that just allows their players to do what they do well and try to beat the cover they give us. the defense but easy for the attack.”
Playing in an offense similar to the one that saw Cooper Kupp win the receiving triple crown last season has Jefferson excited for what may be in store in 2022.
“Seeing what Cooper Kupp did last year, he got closer to the record (for receiving yards) he’s been so open so many times,” Jefferson said. “There’s a lot of things about the movie that I’ve watched and watched and I’m excited about this year. Even being in meetings with him and talking to him about plans and different things he’s done with the Rams and things he plans to do with us, it’s very exciting. I’m really excited to start the season — right now.
After years with a coach who wanted a run-first-and-ever offensive approach, the Vikings are living life across the river.
It’s common for positive vibes to overflow in April after a coaching change. But, for those laid-back vibes to carry over into the winter, O’Connell needs to prove he can sport a winning program.