The Vikings began training camp, ushering in the usual mix of irrational optimism and existential fear.
Which point of view best corresponds to reality?
We may not know until we see Kevin O’Connell and a new coaching staff operating under game conditions.
We may not know until the end of their first season.
History indicates that we may not know until the end of their second season.
New coaches tend to create true believers among the fan base. Remember, before Brad Childress became persona non grata, he was seen by Vikings fans as a combination of Andy Reid and Bud Grant.
And Childress ended up winning a lot of games. But in his first season, he took a team that finished 9-7 under Mike Tice and went 6-10 while trying to prove off-plate running was the pinnacle of play call genius.
O’Connell inherits a team that finished 8-9 last season. If he can spark an improvement, the Vikings should be a playoff team.
What improvement should we expect?
Vikings history, and especially recent Vikings history, indicates that first-year coaches have a chance to improve their team immediately, and that more dramatic improvement tends to occur in their second season. complete at work.
Mike Zimmer immediately won over the fanbase. In reality, he simply improved Leslie Frazier’s last season Vikings by 1½ games, from 5-10-1 to 7-9. In his second season, he went 11-5 and failed to win a playoff game solely because of Blair Walsh’s cold weather stem.
Frazier took a team that went 6-10 – 3-7 before Childress was fired – and went 3-13 the following season as Christian Ponder imploded. In his second full season, he went 10-6 and made the playoffs.
Childress went from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 to 12-4 before the 12th man in caucus became his Waterloo.
A year after the Vikings went 5-11 — 5-10 before Denny Green was fired — Tice went 6-10. The following year, Tice went 9-7.
The Vikings’ last four coaches have amassed 3½ games worse in their first season than their teams finished the year before taking over. They were 16 games combined better in their second full season than they were in their first.
It’s easier to be optimistic about first-year head coaches because they haven’t lost — or called a failed fourth down, or seen a fake punt backfire on millions of viewers.
If rationality had anything to do with NFL fandom, the highest expectations would be saved for 2 years and beyond.
O’Connell’s mentor, Sean McVay, is perhaps the league’s most famous head coach, and he made an immediate impact in his first season.
The year before he was hired, Jeff Fisher was 4-9 in a 4-12 season only to get fired.
There’s an easy comparison to be made here – a bright young offensive coach (McVay, O’Connell) replacing a shrunken defensive coach (Fisher, Zimmer) and having immediate success.
Let’s not pretend that Fisher and Zimmer were the same. Fisher never won more than seven games in five years as Rams coach. Zimmer has never won less than seven.
McVay won 11 games and lost in the wildcard playoff game in his first season. In his second season, he won 13 and made it to the Super Bowl, and if Todd Gurley had been healthy, he might have had a shot at beating the Patriots.
Bill Belichick, perhaps the greatest NFL head coach of all time, went 5-11 in his first season with the Patriots. In his second season, he won the Super Bowl.
In his already infamous interview with USA Today, new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah admitted that his quarterback, Kirk Cousins, is not on the same level as the greats of the game. ‘Adofo-Mensah to share this view indicates that he views Cousins as an expensive placeholder.
The 2022 Vikings are talented enough to win 10 or 11 games. If the Green Bay Packers slip and the Vikings’ key players stay healthy, they could even win the division.
But history indicates that the new braintrust, if capable, will hit its stride in year two or beyond, and likely with a different quarterback.
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