Vikings players, fans react to Kevin O’Connell taking over as head coach

Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings reacts after making a catch during the first half of the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Inglewood, California.  ((Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings made it official on Wednesday: Kevin O’Connell will become the 10th head coach in franchise history.

He’s fresh off winning a Super Bowl, and will replace Mike Zimmer, who spent eight seasons in Minnesota. During that time, the Vikings went 72-56-1, missed the NFC Playoffs in five of the eight seasons and won just two playoff games.

After the official announcement came out, Vikings’ players Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook released statements on O’Connell’s hiring through the team. Needless to say, they’re all excited about the move.

Cousins worked with O’Connell for one season in Washington, in 2017 when the was the quarterbacks’ coach. In that season, Washington finished 7-9 as Cousins threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Cousins is coming off throwing for 4,221 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But the Vikings finished 8-9 and missed the playoffs, leading to the departures of Zimmer and Rick Spielman. Cousins is looking forward to working with O’Connell again.

"I’m excited about Kevin coming on board. Kevin will be the one driving our culture and the voice day in and day out. I’m really excited about what he brings," Cousins said in a statement. "He’s a great football mind, he has been around great football minds, been a player in this league and knows what it takes. I am excited to learn from him and grow as a player and have our team take another step forward."

Jefferson might be the player who benefits most from O’Connell coming to Minnesota. Cooper Kupp was just named the Super Bowl MVP, with eight catches for 92 yards and two scores. He put up an MVP-caliber regular season with 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was targeted at least 10 times in 14 of the Rams’ 17 regular season games.

The hope is that can translate to Jefferson as O’Connell comes to the Vikings. Sean McVay called the plays, but O’Connell certainly had input on the offense. Jefferson finished the 2021 season with 108 catches for 1,616 receiving yards, 17 shy of Randy Moss’s regular season record. His 3,016 receiving yards leads the NFL for receivers in their first two seasons.

He also has 17 touchdowns through two seasons. When the Vikings need a big play next fall, there’s a good chance O’Connell will look to Jefferson.

"I’ve been watching the Rams offense for a minute now. They get their playmakers the ball. They have tremendous plays. Cooper Kupp is open all the time, so I’m excited for it," Jefferson said in a statement. "This is my first head coach that will be on the offensive side instead of defensive side, so I’m happy." 

When he’s healthy, Dalvin Cook is one of the most dynamic playmakers on the Vikings’ offense. He finished second in the NFL in rushing behind Derrick Henry in 2020, and ran for 1,149 yards in 13 games in 2021, with six touchdowns. He’s also got 585 receiving yards on 78 catches the last two seasons, and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

"He was with Kirk Cousins in Washington, so Kirk has been telling me that he’s a great guy to be around and is full of energy. I’m just looking forward to it. It’s a new opportunity, a new era, new energy, you just got to take advantage of it," Cook said.

The Vikings’ ownership group preached finding leadership, communication and collaboration at all levels in finding Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to run the front office, and now O’Connell as head coach. We’ll eventually find out if that translates on the field with the Vikings, but the Rams just won a Super Bowl with that approach.

Vikings fans optimistic about new head coach

When the Rams won the Super Bowl on Sunday, they became world champions. Now some Vikings fans are hoping their winning ways will rub off on the home team.

"I'm excited for the fans, new blood. The opportunity for a young guy to get in on this exciting team coming up. They are already a powerhouse as we know," said Vikings fan Dan Long.

With the official announcement that Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell will be the Vikings new head coach, fans FOX 9 spoke to at Bunny's Bar in St. Louis Park believe he will bring fresh perspective to the veteran team. 

"They did not win the Super Bowl today, but they have an opportunity to use what Super Bowl winners have," said Long.

Some fans were sorry to see defensive mastermind Mike Zimmer go, but they believe having an offensive minded young coach who can relate to younger players will be a touchdown for the purple and gold.

"I think if he can create some community on the team and there's some buy-in there, I think that will translate to results on the field," said Vikings fan Brian Swiggum.

Fans say there's no guarantee hiring a Super Bowl winner will get the Vikings back to the big game, but they are hoping the coaching handoff will have the team heading in the right direction.

"I think it would be aggressive to say next year, but I certainly think by the year after, we'll be in contention," said Vikings fan Mary Benjamin.