Shortly after the Jim Harbaugh news surfaced, the Vikings appear to have their new top choice identified. They are targeting Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell for the job, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.
The Vikings appear serious here, with ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano adding the team called its other finalists to inform them they are no longer in the running for the job (Twitter link). That points to a strong indication O’Connell is on board to succeed Mike Zimmer. Minnesota had Giants DC Patrick Graham and Rams DC Raheem Morris positioned as its other finalists, having given each second interviews along with O’Connell.
Although an O’Connell deal cannot be finalized until after Super Bowl LVI, this chain of events points to the Vikings being confident they have their next coach. This process burned the Colts four years ago, with Josh McDaniels backing out of an agreement after Super Bowl LII. But O’Connell does not have the track record of HC hesitancy the ex-Patriots OC did. O’Connell was also a finalist for the Broncos job that went to Nathaniel Hackett, conducted a second interview with the Texans and was on the Jaguars’ second-interview radar.
Harbaugh interviewed for the Vikings’ HC job Wednesday, but the seven-year Michigan coach is staying at the college level. O’Connell, 36, has been the Rams’ offensive coordinator for the past two seasons, joining Sean McVay in Los Angeles after Washington changed regimes in 2020. O’Connell served as Washington’s quarterbacks coach from 2017-18 and moved up to OC in 2019. O’Connell and new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah were also both with the 49ers in 2016.
O’Connell will be the Vikings’ first offensive-minded head coach since Brad Childress. The team moved in the defensive direction with its past two HCs — Zimmer and Leslie Frazier — but will now bring in a new play-caller. O’Connell has only been a play-caller for a three-month stretch, doing so after Washington fired Jay Gruden early in the 2019 season. Equipped with Case Keenum and a scuffling Dwayne Haskins, Washington ranked last in offense under O’Connell that year. Matthew Stafford‘s performance in his first Rams slate certainly made a better case for O’Connell this season.
The Vikings choosing O’Connell will mean Graham stays with the Giants as DC. Brian Daboll signed on for Graham to stick around were the Vikings to choose someone else as their head coach. Graham, 43, has been with the Giants for the past two seasons. Daboll and Graham previously worked together in New England. The Vikings going with O’Connell means the Rams will not have another one-and-done defensive coordinator, with Morris not connected to any other jobs. The Chargers made Brandon Staley a one-and-done with the Rams last year.