On Thursday, the Broncos continued their search for the team's next head coach, as George Paton and the search committee met with Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell.
While Rams head coach Sean McVay is the de facto leader of the offense given his background and that he is the play-caller, O'Connell has a significant and expansive role that perhaps is overlooked by outsiders.
To learn more about that role and what makes O'Connell an exciting candidate, DenverBroncos.com spoke with the Associated Press' Greg Beacham.
Ben Swanson: What is it about Kevin O'Connell that makes him an intriguing head-coaching candidate for teams like the Broncos?
Greg Beacham: "The thing about Kevin O'Connell is he's been at the controls of the Rams' offense in almost every way, except actually calling the plays, for two years, which makes him a guy who's seen what Sean McVay does and what makes the Rams so successful over the last five years. And there's only a handful of guys in the world who can say that; three of the other assistants who can say that are currently head coaches of their own teams, and two are still in the playoffs along with Sean McVay, so the pedigree is impeccable. There's no doubt that Kevin is the next guy in that lineage."
BS: It seems like that a lot of people put a lot of weight in the play-calling aspect. What is it that he does in his role that makes him so impressive even without that part?
GB: "He is the most important part of the offensive brain trust that develops the Rams' game plans, designs their plays and then implements all the details necessary to make it work on Sundays. It's the biggest role on the offense that doesn't belong to Sean McVay. Kevin is in charge of making sure everything works, and Sean likes him in the role so much that he blocked Kevin from interviewing last year to be the Chargers' offensive coordinator when Brandon Staley moved across town. Not calling the plays is obviously what people hold against Kevin, but this offense is undeniably McVay's baby and it always will be, because he loves the competitive aspect of calling plays, making decisions. The counterargument to that is that Zac Taylor never called a play that mattered in his two years with Sean McVay; he was never even a coordinator with all the responsibilities that entails. But he picked up everything he needed to know to be a success in a job that took probably more top-to-bottom work in Cincinnati than probably is required with the Broncos. They're already a decent team with a decent roster. What other teams are looking for when they look at Rams assistants is someone who's intimately familiar with both McVay's offense and also the Rams' entire process of how they create that offense, how they innovate, how they manage to renew it, whether it's through new schemes, new personnel or getting the most out of the old personnel. And Kevin O'Connell has had a front-row seat of it for the last two years to the process of McVay restoring an offense that was the envy of the league in 2017 and 2018, took a pretty significant downturn in 2019 and 2020, and is now back up among one of the NFL's best. Kevin has seen every part of what Sean did to accomplish that, and you can really say nobody aside from McVay knows it better than him at this point."
BS: I read that Kevin was given play-calling duties during the preseason, and while it's well known that Sean rests starters during the preseason, were you able to get a sense for what his offense would be like if he had the reins?
GB: "I think for the amount that we know about that — like you said, it's basically a scrimmage for the Rams; Sean has decided he doesn't care about the preseason — but I get the feeling that they have a very similar mindset in terms of what's important and what's not. Sean is very, very concerned about getting a balance between the run and the pass, making the most of the players that he has and then figuring out new ways to use players that maybe they weren't used properly in the past with a different team or ways to get something out of somebody that you didn't see before. Sean came in and had Tavon Austin on the roster, turned him into a jet sweeper and made something out of a pick who was not very successful with the Rams otherwise. He turned Robert Woods from a possession receiver into a guy who was very dangerous with the jet sweep and also an overall just great pass catcher. He's been great. You've seen what he's done with Cooper Kupp; he's turned a third-round pick into the most-productive receiver in the NFL. Kevin seems to share a lot of Sean's philosophies; that's why they get along so well and they both came up under Jay Gruden, so they have a similar base of knowledge in terms of coaching. Putting that together, I wouldn't expect to see a lot from Kevin that you haven't seen from Sean, but that's part of what you have to grow into as a head coach. You have to find out what you do like and don't like once you have the finger on the button, so to speak."
BS: The Broncos' GM has said that leadership is a priority for candidates they're looking at. Have you been able to get a sense for how Kevin works with players in his leadership style?
GB: "I will say that as reporters we haven't got to know Kevin in the same way we'd know most coaches because his tenure with the Rams has been during the pandemic, which limits the amount of time we get to spend in conversation with everybody, not just him. But I will say the Rams players seem to love him. They speak highly about his attitude, his communication skills and his ability to relate to them. Obviously since he was an NFL player — Sean McVay was not — Kevin understands whatever aspects of what it takes to play in this league that other coaches can't appreciate, in a certain way. I don't generally think that's a big deal because, you know, Sean McVay seems to have figured it out just fine and there's a lot of head coaches who didn't play in the league who seem to have figured it out just fine, but there's no denying that some players respect former players in a special way. O'Connell was even a backup for Matthew Stafford in Detroit for about a week while he bounced around the NFL as a backup quarterback, and Stafford told us today [on Wednesday] that O'Connell is a better coach than he was a player, so he's got that going for him. He still has his playing instincts, for sure. One thing that we do see from Kevin is he throws the ball around after almost every practice while he's working with the quarterbacks, the receivers, getting in a few reps on his own or just to stay ready. He enjoys being both a part of the guys and also a leader. I think that's a great vibe to have in the modern NFL."