Vikings

Which McVay Disciple Is Kevin O'Connell Most Like?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings are reportedly going to hire the fourth head coach from the Sean McVay coaching tree since he took the Los Angeles Rams job five years ago. If that’s not wild enough, he’s playing against one of them in the Super Bowl, and the other two had nothing but winning seasons on their resumés.

Kevin O’Connell is only a few months younger than McVay, and he’s the offensive coordinator in the Super Bowl. On paper, it’s a home run, but there is more to the story. If you’ve seen anything on Vikings Twitter, you’ll know there are varying opinions on the impending hire.

Since there are no guarantees, the next best thing is to look at the other head coaches that have come from McVay’s staff. There are three to choose from in the NFL.

Which one will O’Connell be most like?

Matt LeFleur (Green Bay Packers)

Vikings fans may be most familiar with Matt LeFleur, considering he is the coach of the Vikings’ only competition in the NFC North. LeFleur is an interesting case study, and I think we’ll learn a lot about his coaching next season.

There are some advantages and disadvantages LeFleur immediately has on O’Connell. First, LeFleur had some experience calling plays for an offense before taking over in Green Bay. But that’s not make-or-break for O’Connell because there are plenty of head coaches who don’t call plays. Still, it is an added experience for a coach taking over a team’s offense.

LeFleur had play-calling duties on the Tennessee Titans under Mike Vrabel after spending time with McVay in Washington and LA. LeFleur was the OC in LA the season before he called plays in Nashville, although he wasn’t calling plays under McVay.

Another reason LeFluer may face a more significant challenge soon is the current state of the Packers. It looks like Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams may head somewhere else next year, meaning LaFleur might not be blessed with two of the best players in the NFL next year. He still has a solid defense and won’t be losing everybody. But there’s no doubt Rodgers made the transition from Mike McCarthy to LeFleur virtually seamless.

Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals)

Zac Taylor’s success is good news for O’Connell. He has reached a Super Bowl in just his third season with the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s incredible for many reasons. But here is the craziest part: He wasn’t even the Rams’ offensive coordinator when Cincinnati hired him. He was the quarterbacks’ coach.

Taylor’s success has spawned the meme that McVay’s waterboy could get a coaching job. But after two dreadful seasons in Cincinnati, he’s had the most successful season a coach could wish for. There are a few factors why he eased into it and why the Bengals are thriving now.

The most important thing is that Taylor needed time to turn around a moribund franchise. What kind of organization hires a quarterback coach for the top job? Well, the Bengals. And it somehow worked out.

The next big factor is LSU. More specifically, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Their chemistry transitioned seamlessly from college to the pros, and the Bengals’ defense is doing better than it should. But that’s what happens when a young team steps up and performs on the big stage.

Taylor had never called plays and is doing fine. Is he benefitting from some of the same things LeFleur is? Yes, but he’s had more to overcome in his time with the Bengals, considering the two coaches were hired in the same year (2019).

Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers)

Brandon Staley is a bit of an outlier, but hear me out. Just because Staley coaches defense doesn’t mean he doesn’t carry the attitude of a McVay coach. He’s aggressive and new-school just like the others. His willingness to go for it on fourth down and account for the analytics in his decision-making makes him just as worthy as the others on this list.

I found this interesting resource for ranking coaches. Staley is the top-tier offensive coach when it comes to aggressive and aware play-calling, heavily relying upon fourth-down situations. There’s an explanation at the bottom of the page. Don’t take it as gospel, but there is a lot of information used to calculate coaches’ play-calling effectiveness.

He doesn’t shy away from going for it on fourth down, even though he’s not guaranteed to always convert. Part of that may be that Joe Lombardi is the play-caller down in LA, but it comes down to Staley’s hirings and attitude. For better or worse, everything a team does stems from the head coach, so I will give Staley his due for the Chargers’ aggressiveness.

O’Connell may need some time to adjust to a head coaching gig, and that’s okay. There’s no reason to believe that he will be worse than Taylor, but he doesn’t quite have the experience of LeFleur. He’s should fit in right in between those two; he’s inheriting a roster better than Taylor’s, but he doesn’t have a Rodgers-caliber quarterback.

The roster is in a perfect position for a new coach to take the reigns and make it theirs. The Bengals more or less did it that way, and the Chargers are still going through growing pains with the transition from Anthony Lynn.

I trust both Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell to make an informed and swift decision with Kirk Cousins because they are both familiar with his game. And there should be no doubt that they are already on the same page because this front office let Jim Harbaugh leave without an offer to get O’Connell in as soon as possible.

Expect the hire Monday after the Super Bowl. An exciting young front office will start making a blueprint for the 2022 Vikings with a McVay disciple at the helm.

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