Vikings owner Mark Wilf was joined by new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and longtime executive Rob Brzezinski in Los Angeles on Monday to conduct second interviews with Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris for the team’s vacant head coaching position, according to Scoopmaster Darren (Doogie) Wolfson of SKOR North and KSTP-TV.
Giants defensive coordinator Pat Graham reportedly will be in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will follow on Wednesday. All four candidates already talked to the Vikings via video conference. San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, meanwhile, reportedly withdrew his name from consideration and will remain with the 49ers.
While O’Connell and Morris are both headed to the Super Bowl, second interviews are allowed this week for assistants of the teams in the Feb. 13 games. While nothing has been decided by the Vikings, there appears to be momentum on O’Connell’s side after he also was in the running for the Broncos’ job.
The 36-year-old was taken by the Patriots in the third round of the 2008 draft after playing quarterback at San Diego State and attempted to keep his playing career alive through 2012. He was named the Cleveland Browns’ quarterbacks coach in 2015, spent 2016 on the 49ers’ offensive staff and then three years with Washington. He was quarterbacks coach in 2017 — where he worked with Kirk Cousins — and then became quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in 2018 and offensive coordinator in 2019.
O’Connell joined the Rams as offensive coordinator in 2020 under Sean McVay. McVay calls plays but that hasn’t stopped other McVay assistants from getting head coaching opportunities. Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who is headed to the Super Bowl in his third season in Cincinnati, was on McVay’s staff for two seasons, including 2018 as quarterbacks coach, before he was hired by the Bengals at the age of 35.
Taylor had to wait until after the Rams played the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII to be introduced in Cincinnati. O’Connell would need to do the same with Minnesota, but that wouldn’t stop an agreement from being reached.
What would interesting is what O’Connell’s hiring would mean for Cousins. Washington went 7-9 in 2017 under Jay Gruden. Cousins threw for 4,093 yards with a 64.3 completion percentage, 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and averaged 255.8 yards passing per game with a 93.9 passer rating. He also was sacked a career-high 41 times. His completion percentage was the lowest of his seven seasons as a starter and his interception total is tied for his career high (he also had 13 in 2020).
The Vikings signed him to a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million free agent contract in March 2018. Would O’Connell want the Vikings to give Cousins another extension to reunite them, or would he want a fresh start? Adofo-Mensah, who was San Francisco’s manager of football research and development during O’Connell’s one season with the 49ers, also would have plenty of say in that decision.
- Winger Jordan Greenway became the latest Wild veteran to a sign an extension on Monday when he agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract. Greenway was the seventh player that Bill Guerin has locked up since September 2019, less than a month after he took over as general manager. The list includes defensemen Jared Spurgeon (seven years, $53.025 million) and Jonas Brodin (seven years, $42 million) and forwards Kirill Kaprizov (five years, $45 million), Joel Eriksson Ek (eight years, $42 million), Marcus Foligno (three years, $9.3 million) and Ryan Hartman (three years, $5.1 million).
- Several of these deals, including Greenway’s, are team friendly. That’s important considering the salary cap issues the Wild figure to have over the coming three seasons as they take a hit for the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Credit Guerin, and coach Dean Evason, with creating a culture that players don’t want to leave. The one contract that really stands out from the above list is Hartman’s. Agreed to last April, Hartman is now the Wild’s first-line center and his 18 goals in 40 games are tied for the team lead with Kaprizov. Hartman is one away from matching his career high of 19 goals with the Blackhawks in 76 games in 2016-17.
- The biggest question facing Guerin will be what he does about Kevin Fiala? The winger is playing on a one-year, $5.1 million deal, and will be a restricted free agent this offseason for the second consecutive year before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency after 2022-23. Fiala got off to a rocky start but has eight goals and 14 points during an 11-game points streak. The 25-year-old’s play has taken off since the Wild recalled winger Matt Boldy from Iowa of the AHL and paired him with Fiala and center Frederick Gaudreau. Fiala is unlikely to take a team-friendly deal, meaning Guerin might look to trade him this summer.
- Rick Spielman only spoke occasionally to the Twin Cities media during his time as the Vikings’ general manager, but now that he has been fired from that job, he is making numerous appearances on national shows. This has enabled him to take some shots at former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. Spielman might not be naming Zimmer but it’s clearly who he is talking about. This comes after Zimmer’s good friend, Deion Sanders, said Zimmer and Spielman hadn’t spoken in months after both were fired on Jan. 10. Hopefully, Zimmer ends his silence at some point soon to let us know what he thinks of his former boss. There also remains the question of why the Vikings fired Spielman after all signs pointed to him being given a new title in the organization?