Very Sneakily, Kevin O’Connell Undercuts a Major Vikings Rumor

falcons tilt
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Think a Brian Flores departure is a foregone conclusion? Think again.

According to Kevin O’Connell, the plan is for the DC to stick around. In fact, O’Connell was fairly effusive in his praise for Flores while foreshadowing where the defense could go under his tutelage: “First and foremost with Flo, could not be more [happy] with the decision that I made last year to bring him in.”

Why the Vikings Would
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The head coach then praises the DC for the “mentality” he helped instill within “that defensive room” and then the uniqueness of what he created. He similarly praises how Flores “tried to evolve” while trying to “continuously provide challenges for our opponents to play against.”

Toward the end of his answer, O’Connell dropped the rumor-undercutting bombshell: “And ultimately, I think the most exciting thing is where Flo is going to take that defense from here. And as we can improve our depth and continue to add pieces to that side of the football, I have so much confidence in what he’s going to be able to do.”

Kevin O’Connell Undercuts a Major Vikings Rumor

Part of what was so stunning about O’Connell’s words is how casual he was while delivering them. Surely, he knows that there are rumblings out there that his defensive mastermind could be in the running for head coach openings (though, admittedly, things have been quiet on that front with the official requests for interviews arriving at breakneck speed around the NFL).

O’Connell, though, didn’t appear at all flustered or even cognizant of a reality other than one where Brian Flores remains the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator.

Hope to Avoid Doomsday
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A hearty portion of his answer was future oriented in its outlook. O’Connell’s focus is on where things are going with Flores and what Flores will be able to accomplish moving forward. Doesn’t sound like a coordinator who is on the cusp of leaving, does it?

Meanwhile, the NFL’s head coach openings are becoming more plentiful. The obvious spots like the Chargers, Raiders, and Panthers are still fresh in people’s minds, but some more unlikely teams have seen vacancies open up. Mike Vrabel is out in Tennessee, Pete Carroll is out in Seattle, and Bill Belichick is out in New England.

The final bit of news — Belichick — is the freshest development. Tom Pelissero is one of the NFL insiders to pass along the news: “Legendary coach Bill Belichick and the #Patriots have mutually agreed he won’t return as head coach in 2024, sources tell me and @RapSheet.” Curious readers can even turn to an update from Mr. Pelissero for all of the coach openings.

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The New England connection is an obvious one since Flores spent so much time there before accepting opportunities in Miami and then in Pittsburgh. O’Connell, though, didn’t pay heed to the possibility, instead opting to prophesy about what the DC is going to accomplish at TCO Performance Center and within U.S Bank Stadium.

And, for whatever it’s worth, Flores has consistently spoken about how much has has enjoyed coaching in Minnesota. Quite possibly, Flores would be reluctant to move on unless the head coach opening was a perfect scenario.

And then there’s the reality that the final weeks of the season featured Minnesota’s defense taking a major step back, possibly taking a bit of wind out of Flores’ head coaching sails.

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Under Ed Donatell, the Vikings allowed 25.1 points against per game, tied for 3rd-worst in the NFL. Flores had (arguably) a less talented group and still pushed the Vikings toward the NFL’s 13th-best defense by allowing an average of 21.3 points against per game. All of that without a true CB1 or a consistent pass rushing threat other than Danielle Hunter.

Oh, and within a year when the injuries were plentiful and so too were the offense’s turnovers.

Make no mistake: the plan in 2023 was for the Vikings to be in rebuild mode with their defense. Brian Flores found a way of majorly overachieving, so Kevin O’Connell is excited about where things are going with Flores calling the shots on defense in 2024.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.