Former Pro Bowler Pounds the Table for Vikings HC

Coach Still Has
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings began the 2023 season as a punchline through five games, losing and stagnant at 1-4, with Justin Jefferson heading to injured reserve in October.

Folks had lost hope, pivoting focus to the draft, which was about six months away, because how would the Vikings conduct self-repairs without the team’s best player?

Former Pro Bowler Pounds the Table for Vikings HC

The answer turned out to be straightforward — lean on the head coach.

Pro Bowler Pounds
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports.

Somehow, Kevin O’Connell remedied the club’s sins, mainly embarrassing turnovers and suspect defense at the time, while watching as the Brian Flores-led defense hit its stride. Minnesota is now 6-4 after 10 weeks and stunningly in the driver’s seat to reach the playoffs.

And the who’s who of NFL punditry is noticing O’Connell’s mastery.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark laughs during a live taping of ESPN’s “First Take” at Florida A&M University’s new Will Packer Performing Arts Amphitheater as part of the school’s homecoming festivities Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. © Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Former Pro Bowler and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark led the charge this week, praising O’Connell to the utmost and suggesting the young head coach is not receiving enough kudos for a job well done.

Clark tweeted after the Vikings win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, “Kevin O’Connell is not being talked about enough for what he’s doing in Minnesota. The season started with extremely tough losses & they have rebounded from 0-3. Now, 1 of the hottest teams in ball, even without their best player and franchise QB. That’s high level leadership.”

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings toyed with the Saints last weekend, sprinting to a 27-3 lead before taking the proverbial foot off the gas and brushing up against a Hail Mary from Jameis Winston that could’ve caused disaster. In the end, Minnesota was victorious 27-19, and O’Connell’s Vikings won their fifth straight game, perfectly aligning the winning streak with Justin Jefferson’s absence, if that can be believed.

Clark’s comments about O’Connell are consistent, too. When quarterback Kirk Cousins was injured in late October, he claimed Cousins was “everything” for the Vikings.

“Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles yesterday & took it like a G. Kirk Cousins attempted to scramble after the injury, hopped to the sideline, & cheered his team from the cart. It was a Kobe Bryant like moment. Reminiscent of the legend hitting two free throws after suffering the same injury,” Clark wrote on X.

Vikings Face Need for Kirk
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

While Cousins was assuredly something to the Vikings, he wasn’t everything, evidenced by the last two games and Josh Dobbs’ heroism. So, Clark revised his Vikings-themed thoughts to hand O’Connell the credit, especially after Cousins’ season-ending absence.

At the moment, O’Connell owns Top 5 sportsbook odds to win the NFL Coach of the Year award.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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