While building his 28-man coaching staff – the largest in the team’s history – in the off-season, new Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell realized there was one specific role very few could play: a former head coach who could help guide the 37-year-old through the demands of The job that seems to have become as much about the boardroom as it is about the movie room.
Who better be O’Connell’s soundboard, he imagined, than the ex-coach who gave him his first job in the NFL?
Mike Petain, a former Browns coach who hired O’Connell in 2015 and spent eight years as a defensive coordinator in the NFL for three teams (most recently the Packers), joined the Vikings crew in February as O’Connell’s assistant coach. The new Vikings coach can learn from the 55-year-old Petain’s experiences, delegate some tasks and check his own instincts against those of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, whose first job in the NFL was in defense with Ray. Lewis and Ed Reed.
Moving on to the head coach position of an NFL team — and, effectively, the face of a multi-billion dollar organization — can come as a shock to even the most prepared former assistant coach. Appear in public, communicate with other departments in the building, conduct near-daily news conferences, take late-night phone calls about a player in legal trouble, conduct weekly conference calls with property, manage the coaching staff, work with the front office, understand the salary cap Overcoming the complexities of a 53-man roster are all essential to the job of the NFL head coach. No other coach, in any position and at any level of football, faces the same set of demands.
This is where Peten comes in.
His official title is Assistant Coach. He makes jokes about “Assistant Regional Director” with a level of self-deprecating humor that Dwight Schrute never had. It’s there when O’Connell needs another perspective on blueprints or list building, or perhaps in dealing with requests from marketing or questions from reporters. He’s there to remind O’Connell, forcefully sometimes, that he needs time to be a coach.
The importance of delegation
Pettine and O’Connell have been talking about the role since O’Connell’s name began emerging as a potential head coach. Petain said the Vikings’ decision to appoint O’Connell as their 10th coach was “a proud moment for my father”.
“There are no Cliffs notes. There is no stupid evidence to be a head coach in the NFL,” said Petain, who was 10-22 in two seasons as a coach for the Browns. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m here. Kevin was smart enough to know, ‘This guy I know has previous coaching experience.'” To me, it made perfect sense when he and I talked about it. As I joked, ‘I can probably tell you more about what not to do versus what to do.’ But just because there’s someone like that guiding him away from some potholes, you can fall in In the face first as a head coach for the first time, I’m there to do it.”
In 2015, Petain’s second year as a coach for the Browns, he hired O’Connell as the quarterbacks coach. He marveled at O’Connell’s blend of footballing acumen and personal skill when Pettine was the Jets’ defensive coordinator and O’Connell was a QB scouting team teaching coaches about the finer points of stopping Tom Brady and the Patriots.
O’Connell, then 29, ran a quarterback room that included Josh McConne, a respected 35-year-old veteran, and Jonny Manzel, a first-round pick already teetering on the edge of the reclamation project by his second season.
“The Xs and Os part just came so natural for him,” Petain said. “But that’s not all there is. I’ve been around a lot of coaches where it’s like a ‘beautiful mind’ – they can fill the board. It’s people skills. It’s the ability to make complex schemes and when that happens it’s time to explain it to the player, you put in terms They can understand it. We always say, ‘This is not what we know; It’s what they know.” And that’s a skill as a coach that a lot of players struggle with.”
Petten said that in his first few months at the Vikings job, O’Connell came into his office “a fair amount, probably more than he thought he might have to.”
Those visits usually began when O’Connell expressed surprise at a new assignment on his plate. They ended up with two verses that herald the importance of delegation.
“I think he came into my office disappointed more than a few times,” Petten said. “It was like, ‘I can’t believe I have to deal with this’—just a few things that cross your desk, and that’s part of it. I said, ‘Listen, you surround yourself with great support.'” You can’t be that guy who’s like, ‘If that’s the case, it’s up to me.’ You can’t do that.”
One of the secrets of the job Peyten gave O’Connell: carve out your time in football.
“Especially for the coach who is going to call him [plays]This is the hardest thing, Petten said. There has to be a time where the door is locked and he has someone—maybe not literally guarding him, but figuratively guarding him—where, “Hey, this is a no-time disturbance. He needs time to watch the movie.”
The passion for football is back
After completing three years as the Packers defensive coordinator after the team lost in the 2021 NFC Championship game, he spent last season as a senior defensive assistant in Chicago. He said that in recent years he has reached a point where his passion for the game has waned, to the point where his wife, Megan, can see it affecting his health.
Now, he’s leading initiatives in Minnesota like the Coach Diversity Summit hosted by the Vikings in May. He said that knowing who he would work for, and who he would work with, made the Vikings environment the one he felt could reignite his passion for the game.
“That’s important to me at this point: enjoying what you’re doing,” he said. “So that was an easy decision.”
He is glad to be here now, to help his former pupil.
“I wish I had someone in Cleveland who was there and went through it,” Petten said. “I would recommend this to any new head coach. It doesn’t matter, really, what the official job is – whether it’s a coaching position, or coordinating. Whatever. There’s no substitute for passing it.”