LOS ANGELES – Kevin O'Connell realizes there are going to be plenty of questions about his next steps after the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator prefers to keep the focus on the immediate task at hand.
O'Connell is expected to become the Minnesota Vikings' next head coach as soon as Feb. 14, the day after the Rams face the Cincinnati Bengals for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The 36-year old O'Connell admitted he has a winter coat, but that was the closest he came to discussing anything related to the Vikings.
“Just getting to this phase you learn that you have got to try and compartmentalize. Use every moment that you possibly can when you’re not sleeping, to be doing something productive for whatever you may be trying to accomplish at that given moment,” O'Connell said Friday. “First and foremost remembering I have a critical job here to make sure that I’m giving our team the best possible chance to go beat the Bengals. It’s going to be a real challenge. We know that and we’re really trying to make use of the extra time as well.”
O'Connell had a second interview with Minnesota on Monday, the day after the Rams advanced to their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history with a 20-17 victory over San Francisco in the NFC championship game. Los Angeles started practicing and installing the game plan on Thursday.
Head coach Sean McVay has done his best to support O'Connell during the interview process and does not begrudge any of his assistants trying to get a head coaching job, even when everyone is preparing for a Super Bowl. McVay said O'Connell's preparation and compartmentalizing are similar to the way Zac Taylor handled things three years ago. Taylor was Rams quarterbacks coach when they were preparing for the Super Bowl against New England before he was hired to take over in Cincinnati.
“What you tell these guys is we’re not having every single second that’s allocated to the opponent. You still want to be able to have some balance, but do a thorough job,” McVay said. "I think it’s silly to try to ignore the opportunity that you have, you definitely want to own that. Compartmentalizing is the key. Let’s be totally locked in on preparing to the best of your ability within the framework of your role for the Rams. But man, when you get an opportunity to compete for one of these head jobs — these are so precious — go shoot your shot and give it your best.”
While many view McVay as the Rams' offensive mastermind, he said O'Connell truly is the offensive coordinator — from running the quarterback meetings to putting together the game plan and then setting up how the offensive staff works on game day.
O'Connell is in his second year with the Rams after three seasons in Washington. Ironically, O'Connell joined Jay Gruden's staff in 2017 after McVay was hired as Rams coach.
The Rams were ninth in total offense this season despite battling through their share of injuries. Running back Cam Akers did not play the entire regular season after an Achilles tendon injury before training camp, and wide receiver Robert Woods tore an ACL during a November practice.
The offense, though, has been led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Stafford praised O'Connell earlier this week for his demeanor and ability to communicate.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now, playing in this game with this group the way we’ve been playing, if it wasn’t for his help," Stafford said. "He does an unbelievable job teaching not only the game but what we’re trying to do at our position at quarterback."
O'Connell's main work this week has been figuring out how to prepare against Cincinnati's secondary, which has six interceptions during the postseason.
When O'Connell does take the Vikings job, he will be the fourth McVay assistant to become a head coach. While there is talk of a coaching tree with the success of Taylor, Green Bay's Matt LaFleur and the Los Angeles Chargers' Brandon Staley, McVay hates using that term.
“I almost think it’s a little ridiculous when you talk about the tree because these guys are co-workers where we positively pour into one another. I just happen to be in the role that I’m in,” McVay said. "I learned more from them than those guys have for me, and I think they’ve been instrumental parts of a lot of the things that have been done right. The players are what make this place so special. And then when you have success, because you’re around great players and great coaches, that leads to opportunities.
"It does create some good positive stress, but it also opens up opportunities to get exposure to new special coaches."
More AP Super Bowl coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/super-bowl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL