As part of an ongoing series, Deepi Sidhu caught up with Greg Beacham, Associated Press reporter covering the Los Angeles Rams, to discuss Rams Offensive Coordinator Kevin O'Connell. The Houston Texans recently interviewed O'Connell for the Head Coach position.
Sidhu: What do you make of the interest in Kevin O'Connell as a head coaching candidate? How has he added to his resume in his two seasons under Sean McVay?
Beacham: It's completely understandable to those of us who have covered him that O'Connell is a popular candidate around this league. After all, he's the next branch on the most impressive young coaching tree in football. Three of Sean McVay's former assistants with the Rams are already head coaches, and McVay and those three coaches all had winning records this season. McVay, Matt LaFleur and Zac Taylor all made the playoffs and Brandon Staley's Chargers just barely missed being the fourth playoff team on that tree. Organizations value a winning pedigree, and O'Connell has that after back-to-back strong seasons as McVay's right-hand man. McVay clearly respects and appreciates him, and that's an enormous plus. The Rams have revitalized an offense that was a middle-of-the-pack group to start 2020 in many ways but has grown into one of the NFL's best this season. O'Connell had a front-row seat for everything that went into that, and he would take all of that background and experience when he gets to lead his own team. He's only 36 years old, and he's only been an NFL assistant coach for seven seasons, so his overall experience is on the low side, but there's no doubt he's been in some important jobs and had more valuable experience than many coaches who have been doing this much longer. He's getting even more of that invaluable experience this week as he prepares for the NFC championship game.
Sidhu: O'Connell began his career in New England as a backup to Tom Brady. Texans GM Nick Caserio served as the Director of Player Personnel the year that O'Connell was drafted by the Patriots. How much do you think that one season with the Patriots and learning from Brady influenced O'Connell?
Beacham: O'Connell has mentioned several times over the last two years how much he admires Tom Brady both for his longevity and his winning career, but also just for the fundamentally solid game he plays as a quarterback. He cites Brady as maybe the best fundamentally pure thrower in the league even now. It's something he mentioned at length back in September when the Rams played the Bucs for the first time this season. O'Connell was a quarterbacks coach for two teams before he joined the Rams, so he's intimately involved in coaching passers anywhere he goes. He had an up-close look at the way Brady prepares for games and then the way he executes on Sundays, and everything Brady does is part of the overall body of knowledge that he's tried to give the quarterbacks he has coached since then, including Matthew Stafford, John Wolford and Bryce Perkins here in LA over the last two seasons.
Sidhu: How did O'Connell adapt the Rams offense from a young QB in Jared Goff to a veteran in Matthew Stafford?
Beacham: O'Connell and Sean McVay put a level of trust into Matthew Stafford this season that Stafford earned during a dozen seasons in Detroit. What that largely meant is that they tweaked their offensive game plans and play designs and personnel groupings to fit Stafford's game in a way that allows him to play the game he wants to play, which is probably a bit more aggressive, more instinctual game than Jared Goff or some other young quarterbacks might be capable of playing. O'Connell and McVay working together, put a bigger emphasis on the deep passing game with Cooper Kupp, with DeSean Jackson and then with Odell Beckham Jr., mixing up their play-calling style so that defenses had to alter their defensive formula for the Rams. Good coaches are always reinventing their schemes to counter defensive innovations and to utilize any new personnel, and O'Connell has gained a lot of experience in those areas over the last two years with the Rams' changing roster.
Sidhu: What stands out to you about O'Connell in your time covering him?
Beacham: Some people just seem like natural leaders, and O'Connell gives off that effortless vibe of a guy who knows what he's doing but doesn't feel the need to demonstrate how smart or how competent he is. He's got some friendly California cool, which is no surprise for a guy who grew up just north of San Diego, and he's very down-to-earth and relatable in every setting in which we get to see him, but when you get him talking about football, you can see he knows everything there is to know about what's happening on his offense, and it's difficult to find a question that surprises him or which he doesn't know how to answer. He's got a great offensive mind, and he definitely seems to be a respected leader in the Rams' locker room. Being a head coach is a different job, and it's much more responsibility than he has had before, but it's the next logical step for an organization that wants a cutting-edge offensive mind with a strong coaching pedigree.
Sidhu: Do you have a favorite anecdote of memory (football or non-football) of O'Connell?
Beacham: To give you a sense of his character, he's very self-deprecating both about himself and about his NFL playing career, and he has a very relatable nature with just about everybody from players to reporters. He does know how to mix it up a little bit, though. He was Stafford's backup in Detroit for about a week early in their careers, and Matthew told us jokingly last week that Kevin is a more talented coach than he was a player. Not only did Kevin hear about that little dig from his star quarterback, Kevin mentioned it in his own news conference a day later in a very self-deprecating way, and he went even further and said the first thing he thought about when he saw Odell Beckham's 40-yard pass to Cam Akers in the Rams' first playoff game was jealousy at how beautiful a pass it was. He's a leader who can also be one of the guys, and that's the kind of balance that a lot of people believe the best coaches should strike in the NFL.
Take a look at the best photos of the 2021 Houston Texans Fans.