Rex Ryan Believes Kevin O’Connell to be the Smartest Player He Ever Coached

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn - USA TODAY Sports

Current Minnesota Vikings head coach, Kevin O’Connell, completed four passes for a total of 23 yards during his NFL playing career. Given he was a top-100 draft pick (Patriots – 3rd rd, 94th pick overall), calling him a bust wouldn’t be hyperbolic.

Still, KOC used his big brain and exceptional communication skills to open all sorts of eyes during his four years bouncing around the the NFL (Patriots, Lions, Jets, Dolphins, Chargers) from 2008-2012.

Backup QB, Kevin O’Connell, impresses Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum in New York.

O’Connell’s longest stop was in New York from fall-2009 through the 2011 season. KOC spent most of three-straight seasons with the Jets because then up-and-coming head coach, Rex Ryan, believed him to be the smartest player he had ever coached. That’s what ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum — who was general manager of the Jets from 2006-2012 — told the “Ross Tucker Podcast” on Wednesday.

According to Tannenbaum, not only did O’Connell contribute in big ways to coaching and gameplanning offensively, but he was a big help for Rex Ryan in designing and executing his unstoppable and infamous blitz schemes back then. KOC made such an impact on the Jets from 2009 through 2011 that, over a decade later, his former GM has Kevin O’Connell in his top-3 “young” head coaching options, if starting a brand new NFL franchise today.

(Captions are built into the video so I did not transcribe below).

O’Connell was drafted by the Patriots (April, 2008) and waived 16 months later (Aug. 31, 2009). He was picked up by the Lions the next day (Sept. 1, 2009), who then flipped him to the New York Jets for a 7th round pick not even a week later (Sept. 6, 2009).

Player/Coach, Kevin O’Connell

KOC never played a regular season down for the Jets and actually spent a large chunk of his time in New York on the Injured Reserve list. The organizational braintrust, at the time, saw him as a valuable game-planning tool on both sides of the ball.

The New York Times wrote about his sideline contributions in December, 2011. Offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, knew he was a valuable asset on gameday and teammates, even then, were already calling him “Coach O’Connell”.

O’Connell, however, is much more than a bit player. Coaches and players describe him as a quasi coach, sticking close to Sanchez during games and consulting with Coach Rex Ryan’s assistants. O’Connell has an uncanny knack for reading a game, recognizing defensive coverages and contributing insights like helping to explain how cornerbacks defended receivers.

“He’s a coach with a lot of football talent,” said the rookie quarterback Greg McElroy, who is on injured reserve. “That’s really what it is. He has a great mind for it, a great eye for it. He has a tremendous feel on game days. He can see the entire field from the sideline. He can see the game vertically, as if watching film, from the sidelines.”

“He’s great on game day,” Schottenheimer said. “He has a clipboard. He’s charting coverages and things like that. He really gets the game. He really gets the game and I think, obviously, when he’s done playing, he’ll be a great coach.”

New York Times (Dec. 2011)
KOC the defensive mastermind…?

But now that we know he was also helping out on defense, per Mike Tannenbaum, guess what… he may have been keeping that side of the ball afloat too. The numbers from back suggest that might be the case.

New York’s defense ranked 1st in the NFL in both yards and points allowed in 2009, before ranking 3rd and 6th in both categories in 2010. KOC was with the Jets both seasons, before he was waived in July, 2011. Tannenbaum signed him back a month later (**see table below) but, by then, the damage had been done.

YearTmDef Yds AldDef Pts AldKOC
2010NYJ36Yes (IL)
**The Jets cut O’Connell on 7/29/11 before signing him again on 9/4/11 — He was picked up and waived by the Dolphins for the month+ in-between.

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/7/2023.

The Jets’ defense wasn’t terrible after cutting their backup QB (and defensive blitz specialist) in the 2011 offseason but — whether it had anything to do with his departure or not — Rex Ryan’s mojo was never the same again.

While they remained in the top-10, in points allowed, for most of Ryan’s coaching tenure; they really struggled to keep teams off the scoreboard from 2011 through when Rex was fired, following the 2014 season. Calm down, I’m not saying Kevin O’Connell was the key to Rex Ryan’s impressive defensive or the Jets’ playoff runs back in 2009 and 2010. I’m strictly presenting facts.

Just saying…

What is clear, however, is that KOC has positively impacted many peers and superiors, while making his way through the player and coaching ranks during his 15 years in the NFL. Hopefully, we’ve found found a good one the right one. We need that big ole’ brain of his to find a way to finally put the Minnesota Vikings over the Super Bowl hump.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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