Why NFC Coach Believes He’s In Coaching ‘Race’ With Ex-Patriots Teammates

The only time Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell saw playing time during his NFL career came in 2008 as a rookie with the the New England Patriots.

Vikings HC Kevin O'Connell provides an update on the running back position  - A to Z Sports

O’Connell has enjoyed a ton more success as a coach than he did as a quarterback. But he’s far from the only member of his Patriots draft class to take up coaching.

Jerod Mayo, who was New England’s first-round pick in 2008, quickly rose from an inside linebackers coach in 2019 to being named the new head coach of the Patriots this offseason after the organization parted ways with Bill Belichick. Matthew Slater also got drafted by the Patriots the same year as O’Connell and Mayo and has the temperament and leadership skills to be a future coach.

O’Connell just hopes he can fair better in coaching than he did as a player compared to Mayo and Slater. But he doesn’t like his chances.

“I’ve always told (Mayo and Slater) that my hope was to race them into coaching, to get out in front of them as far as I could,” O’Connell told reporters this week from the NFL Scouting Combine, per The Boston Globe’s Christopher Price, “because, as much superior as they were to me as players, they’re probably going to do the same in this capacity as well. Those guys are unbelievable.”

Slater, who announced his retirement following this past season, has not said definitively that he would get into coaching. But O’Connell is convinced that Slater will be called to the profession.

“I think we can start the head coach watch for Matthew Slater now as well,” O’Connell said.

It’s not a surprise to O’Connell to see where Mayo ended up in the coaching ranks. O’Connell saw the coaching traits Mayo exhibited the moment they both got to New England.

“A lot of times, draft classes and rookie classes, the way you go through the rookie development program, your schedule is a little different,” O’Connell said. “You’re around each other a lot. There tends to be some alphas who set the tone for the whole group, and Jerod was that for us from Day One. He was the first-round pick, and it didn’t take long to see why, at least from the standpoint of his impact on the field.

“Maybe the greatest coach in the history of football is moving on. It’s never going to be an easy decision. But having Jerod in-house, with his traits and his ability, to lead that organization, I was really excited to see him get that opportunity.”

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