How Kevin O’Connell’s brief playing career led him to become a coach for the Vikings

EAGAN (Minn.) — Kevin O'Connell's world of football was starting to settle nicely in the summer 2009. He was immediately followed by the quarterback on the New England PatriotsThe Patriots had traded O'Connell from their depth chart. Two Patriots free agents were added to their depth chart, but O'Connell, a third-round draft selection the previous year, was the favourite to emerge from training camp. Tom BradyThis is the best backup.

O'Connell was not able to make it out of camp with the Patriots as planned. After a disappointing preseason, O'Connell was waived in August. He was quickly moving towards the slow sunset of his career on the field.

O'Connell's time spent in New England is a poignant example of what many NFL players go through. O'Connell was a less-than-elite candidate whose window of opportunity to prove himself was shut before he was ready.

O'Connell, upon his departure from the Patriots got into waiver wire gamesmanship. He ultimately landed at the New York JetsHe had just drafted Mark Sanchez as the quarterback with the No. 5th overall pick. O'Connell's familiarity and potential ability to help the Patriots in AFC East was part of their interest.

This series of events is now more relevant than ever a decade later. O'Connell will be the coach Minnesota Vikings On Thanksgiving night, the Patriots will be up against them (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), a reminder of the fact that one door closes and another opens. His knowledge of the Patriots' system impressed the Jets so much that he was made an informal member of their coaching team for the next three seasons without ever playing in a regular-season match.

O'Connell was not a coach after a year in New England, but he did get cut by them.

O'Connell spoke to ESPN about his playing career, saying that “I don't know whether I've ever accepted it all.” “But when many people tell you that you are going to be a great Coach, I think they are also telling you something else — that you may not be the great player they want you to be.” Everything happens for a reason.


SCOTT PIOLI WAS He was in his seventh year of service as Patriots' vice-president of player personnel, when he began preparing for 2008 draft. The same as the Green Bay Packers The Patriots pursued QB prospects aggressively in the 1990s even though they had a future Hall of Fame starter.

Pioli quickly identified O'Connell as a Patriots target. He could back Brady, grow in their culture, and then be a trade or success asset.

Pioli, a broadcaster for CBS and the NFL Network, stated that “from a physical tools perspective, he was phenomenal.” “You can have the stature you want. His makeup, which was always an important part of what I always looked at, was out of the ordinary.”

O'Connell would run the 2008 combine's fastest 40 time, 4.61. Importantly, Bill Belichick and Pioli value the potential of players who have been captains of teams. O'Connell had served as a San Diego State team captain for four seasons. O'Connell was named the No. 94th overall pick in the draft, the fifth and final quarterback after Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Joe Flacco (Baltimore), Brian Brohm(Green Bay) Chad Henne (Miami).

O'Connell recalled being honored by a team that won three of the seven previous Super Bowls. However, he also asked: “How will I ever be able to ever play here knowing that maybe this is the best quarterback that's ever been played”

Brady was injured in the first game. Matt Cassel was named backup for the rest of the season after the injury. O'Connell served as Cassel's number one for the entire year. 2, O'Connell appeared in two games, and completed 4 of 6 passes for 23 yard.

Belichick spoke this week on WEEI radio and described O'Connell to be a “smart” player who “always really good at understanding all the things that we were doing in passing game: line of scrimmage checks; managing the team; running the offense, etc.”

O'Connell stated that he was “very excited” going into Year 2 and felt “like he was going to take the next steps.”

However, Patriots fans were not surprised to see significant organizational change. Pioli left after the season to become the Kansas City Chiefs‘ general manager. Cassel was quickly acquired by Pioli through trade. Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator, was fired. Denver BroncosThe new coach. Cassel's departure did not affect the depth chart. But, it meant that two of the three top decision-makers for the position of quarterback were gone within weeks.


TO HEDGE THEIR Bets were made in 2009 when Brady was able to rehabilitate his knee. The Patriots signed an undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer Andrew Walter, who is also a veteran backup. O'Connell's performance, however, was not as impressive as Hoyer.

O'Connell then had his worst day. O'Connell was 3 of 10 for 18 yards in their third preseason match against Washington. He also had two interceptions. Belichick called O'Connell to meet with Nick Caserio, director of player personnel, and Bill O'Brien, first-year offensive coordinator. O'Connell was thrown out by the Patriots, and Hoyer was made to be Brady's backup. Brady is now ready to return to his original role.

This week, Belichick stated to New England reporters that O'Connell simply didn't work out. Although it was difficult to start the season with two quarterbacks, Belichick explained that it was normal for most teams in those years.

O'Connell admitted that he tried to do too many things to impress the coaches in retrospect. However, it wasn't that he displayed a poor attitude and work ethic. This could have caused teams to drop a high draft pick after just one season.

O'Connell stated that he missed some opportunities early that could have helped him find more playing time. “I feel that I missed out on some truly great opportunities. It doesn't matter whether you are a first-round or second-round pick; eventually, you will have to prove that your arrow points up. You'll also need to demonstrate your ability to grow and improve. And then, when your number is called you'll need to be ready.

“Because you never know when the time will come when your team's evaluation is complete. It is a great way to talk with players about how to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Once that chance was lost, the fun began.


THE DETROIT LIONS Even after having drafted, he was claimed on waivers Matthew Stafford With the No. The No. Fresh from their 2008 0-16 season, the Lions were looking to increase their future draft picks by using their top spot in the NFL waiver priority system. O'Connell was claimed to be their trade candidate. O'Connell was released five days later. sent to the Jets.

O'Connell was faced with a similar situation in New York: Sanchez had been drafted by the Jets and they were comfortable with backup Kellen Cllemens. O'Connell made it through the final cut as the No. O'Connell was the No. 3 quarterback partly because the Jets played against his old team in Week 2.

As a matter of routine, Mike Pettine, the then-Jets defensive Coordinator, scheduled a meeting to meet with O'Connell. Pettine stated that he was eager for “somebody from behind” the Iron Curtain of Patriots insider info.

Pettine, now assistant head coach of the Vikings, stated that Pettine is a natural leader when someone from your team comes to you. Although it can sometimes do you more harm than good at times, you could see with Kevin that the valuable information he shared would be invaluable.

This meeting became a regular session with Jets coaches. O'Connell, as an example, would add notes on the scout team play sheet in order to improve coaches' understanding of how their opponents were performing. Mike Tannenbaum, the then-Jets' general manager, recalled O'Connell's ability to attack protection schemes. Pettine stated that O'Connell once devised a blitz that resulted in Brady's sack. (The Jets went 3-4 against Brady in O'Connell's three seasons in New England, with a win in Foxborough in the 2010 playoffs.

Soon O'Connell, Tannenbaum claimed, had earned the deep respect and admiration of coach Rex Ryan.

“Rex said that to me, “Mike, this guy was the best defensive coach in the building, myself included,”” stated Tannenbaum now an ESPN analyst.

O'Connell would spend three seasons with the Jets. A 2011 New York Times profileRare for a No. 3 quarterback, noted his former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer referred to him as Coach O'Connell. Three years later, he took his first coaching position with the Jets. Cleveland Browns As QB coach. Was Mike Pettine the Browns' head coach? Mike Pettine.

O'Connell explained that New England taught him to do everything possible to help his team and to do his job, however difficult it may be. My goal was to add value wherever I could. If that meant helping Mark Sanchez prepare his offense for a specific offense, it was something I did.

“Maybe that was where I got the confirmation that I would one day get into coaching because I love that part of it.

Pettine was less rambling.

Pettine said that Kevin was not a great quarterback. I can recall laughing with him, saying, “You're not worth much as a player, but your going to be a helluva coach.” “I wasn't the only one who said that to him.”


LIKE SO MUCH O'Connell, like many other retired players can only imagine where his career would have ended if it weren't for those fateful twists. Pioli stated that he had filed a waiver on O'Connell's behalf in 2009. Multiple reports at the time indicated that McDaniels also submitted a waiver claim on O'Connell in Denver. Their waiver priority was lower than that of the Lions, who had the worst football record in 2008

What if O'Connell had ended up with the Chiefs, or Broncos instead? What if the Lions had sent O'Connell to a team that was more in need of his services?

Pioli stated, “Player development can be very circumstantial.” “Especially at the quarterback position. Many talented players end up in difficult circumstances. It's cultural.”

Tannenbaum stated that O'Connell is not a flop as a play.

Tannenbaum stated that he was probably one of the top 40-60 quarterbacks at the time. That was nothing to be ashamed. He was really, really good, but not elite, elite or elite. Anything can affect a career when you're at his level.

It's tempting for O'Connell to coach Thursday against Belichick and Patriots based on what he learned from playing there 15 years ago. He also acknowledged that he had tried to incorporate Belichick’s attention to detail and willingness to invent his schemes based upon personnel and trends.

O'Connell stated, “I don't believe I would be sitting here right now without the chance to go there and learn such football at such an elite level from some of our best coaches and players,” “I didn't take that for granted once. Even though it wasn't a great decision in the short term it was a good investment in my long-term future.

However, the truth is that the most important lesson was not learned until he walked out of the door.

“I ended up going down the coaching path and I feel very fortunate for my football journey. Because it has made me a better coach by all the experiences I had. Some experiences are not positive. This is the greatest lesson I've learned.

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