Rams Hiring of Kevin O’Connell Is Exactly What Was Needed To Reignite Sean McVay’s Offense

by Jake Ellenbogen
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The Los Angeles Rams hired Kevin O’Connell last night as their new offensive coordinator. During his time with the Rams, Sean McVay has only had one dedicated offensive coordinator (Matt LaFleur in 2017); in 2018 and 2019, he split the position into two roles (tight ends coach Shane Waldron took over as the passing game coordinator while offensive line coach Aaron Kromer took over as the running game coordinator). Rams assistant Jedd Fisch was moved into an assistant offensive coordinator role as well.

The hiring of O’Connell likely allows coaches Waldron and Kromer to go back to doing what they do best and creates less of a workload strain on both of them. Let’s take a look on what makes O’Connell such a great hire for the Rams.

The 34-year-old coach has had a major rise up the coaching ranks. While not at the same pace as Sean McVay himself, who took a head coaching job when he was 30-years-old, O’Connell is still one of the youngest potential head coaching candidates moving forward the next couple of years. What is odd is how the Redskins organization continues to pump out so many great offensive minds, and yet how they once again let every single one of them get away.

You are probably wondering how O’Connell was even available if he is ‘so great and to that’, I’ll answer succinctly: Ron Rivera. The now-Redskins coach and former Panthers head coach brought in one of his top guys over in Carolina, Scott Turner. That, then, opened the door for O’Connell and the Rams to talk. Whether it was the right move or not we won’t know for a bit. What we do know is that the Rams got better with this hiring, the Redskins let go of yet another talented young offensive mind and Rivera did something most new head coaching hires do which was adding someone they already had familiarity with to a key role on their coaching staff.

The irony in all of this is how O’Connell came from the Redskins, which would have many people believe that he had some sort of connection that ultimately led to this job. As a matter of fact, that is not the case. Sure, McVay probably found it easy to vet him by talking to his former co-workers (namely confidant Jay Gruden) but O’Connell won this job all on his own merit. McConnell, funnily enough, was the successor to McVay after McVay was hired in early 2017 to coach the Rams. He started off 2017 as the quarterbacks coach, moved on up to passing game coordinator in 2018 and then in 2019 he was offered the full offensive coordinator position. Here’s a quote from O’Connell after he was named the offensive coordinator to start 2019.

“Being a coordinator in my opinion, it’s about putting the people, your personnel, in situations where they can be successful,” he said. “Ninety percent of that in my opinion is the quarterback, and if the quarterback has success, the other ten guys around him if they’re doing their job will feel that success as well.”

O’Connell seems to have the right mindset to be the coordinator, and as a former quarterback in the NFL, knows exactly what it takes to win and what a quarterback is up against. Oddly enough, he’s only 34-years-old, so when the Redskins ran through all sorts of injuries forcing their hands into playing journeymen like Mark Sanchez and then Josh Johnson in an emergency. O’Connell actually asked Jay Gruden if it was possible for him to play under center in case of an even bigger emergency. You can just tell O’Connell loves this game as much as anyone and his quarterback experience is a huge plus in what he brings to a coaching staff. (EDITOR’S NOTE: expect to see McVay running routes after practice while O’Connell eagerly fires passes to his boss).

Here’s another interesting tidbit: O’Connell chose the Rams and Sean McVay over waiting for Josh McDaniels, his friend and former coach from his days with the Patriots, to become the potential head coach in Cleveland. That decision does speak volumes on how much respect O’Connell must have for the Rams position, McVay and the players. Everyone knows this is a big-time destination that has put a former quarterbacks coach (Zac Taylor) and a former offensive coordinator (LaFleur) in position to become head coaches in hardly any year’s time. However, O’Connell had a potentially great gig with McDaniels if he waited and he refused to wait and decided to take the job with the Rams.

The one who likely benefits the most from this hire is not just McVay but also Rams franchise quarterback Jared Goff, who is coming off a disappointing 2019 season after looking like one of the best young passers in the game in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, the Rams brought in LaFleur as offensive coordinator and Greg Olson as quarterbacks coach. As many know, 2017 was a year of success for the turned around Rams and quarterback Jared Goff. In 2018, LaFleur departed to take over the play-calling duties in Tennessee, Olson took over offensive coordinator duties in Oakland and the Rams broke up the offensive coordinator position into two roles. For these two roles, aforementioned Shane Waldron and Aaron Kromer took over them and the Rams replaced Olson with young up-and-coming offensive mind Zac Taylor from Miami. Taylor would act as quarterbacks coach.

After the 2018 season, the passing and running game coordinators stayed the same but Taylor went onto be the next head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. Coach Fisch was promoted to assistant offensive coordinator and the replacement of Taylor was Waldron who would end up as quarterbacks coach. The Rams brought in former NFL quarterback and Pro Football Focus analyst Zac Robinson to be the assistant quarterbacks coach as well.

Unfortunately in 2019, the magic ran out and the offense clearly took a step back. It’s not a 100 percent certainty that promoting Waldron and having him fill two roles at once was the reason for the step back. However, in both years prior, Goff had a legitimate quarterbacks coach that just focused on one role and as mentioned earlier, Waldron may have been strung too thin due to his increased workload.

Now, with O’Connell in place, the Rams can go back to installing a creative gameplan while also having someone on that coaching staff that is willing to work in developing young quarterback talent. O’Connell was making significant strides with rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, he was working out the kinks and preparing QB’s Sanchez and Johnson for game days in must-win potential playoff run situations, and he’s now going to get arguably the most talented quarterback he’s ever worked with and have a chance to get him back on track. McVay will continue the play-calling but it’s what O’Connell can do as far as installing gameplans, analyzing the offensive performance, developing the roster’s quarterbacks and being another set of eyes and ears to McVay on the sideline that should excite many. O’Connell had the same role last year when Jay Gruden promoted him to offensive coordinator, and was met with league-wide appreciation.

It’s worth mentioning that once the team fired Gruden, O’Connell became the primary play-caller but until then he was in the same role he will be in with the Rams. Here’s what Gruden had to say in regards to what O’Connell’s job would be.

“During the week, instead of putting tape together for Case Keenum and Colt McCoy as far as what to see on first and second down, he’s looking at how to put in the plays for third down and schematically, the best ways to attack the defense,” Gruden said.

“It’ll be great. He’s very, very bright, knows what we’re looking for, the types of defenses we see week in and week out and the plays that we like that we think fit for the style of defense that we see — protection wise, how to pick up certain blitzes — so I think it’ll be a big-time help.”

That right there is a preview of what O’Connell will bring to the table for McVay. It’s uncertain what this hiring means for Waldron, Kromer, Robinson and Fisch but what we do know is that the Rams grabbed someone who was being pursued by multiple teams for a reason, they got younger on the coaching staff (which is something McVay was looking to do) and they likely found someone that is going to kick their offense into high gear. Anytime a team with Super Bowl potential falls short of that, it’s a down year. However, it becomes potentially destructive and dangerous when a team like the Rams doesn’t even make the playoffs. We’ve already seen a shuffling on the coaching staff because of it. Regardless, this hiring signals a new era of the offense with a legitimate offensive coordinator that might be an even better option than Matt LaFleur was.

It’s up to O’Connell to ‘prove it’ this upcoming season but make no mistake, this is an A+ hire; McVay knew he needed help on teaching that side of the ball and clearly this coaching staff wasn’t working in the way he wanted it to. So a big shakeup in the offensive coaching staff allows the Rams to get back to the drawing board and find out how they can summarily 1) bring Goff back to where he was a year ago, 2) find out how they can establish a balanced offensive attack that doesn’t entirely ignore Todd Gurley, rookie running back Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, and 3) maintain a premium on creativity and unpredictability.

Ultimately, it’s a good sign that McVay went out and hired O’Connell. He gave the in-house, co-coordinator option a chance and this past year it wasn’t enough to maintain a consistently effective attack. No connections and no buddy-buddy because this was a big-time mature hire from a head coach in this league that is finding his way rather quickly. McVay has taken the training wheels off, it’s time for him to build a young coaching staff and start further developing his coaching tree. O’Connell was once again, a step in the right direction.

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