ST PAUL, Minn. — For two years, Chuck Long coached quarterback Kevin O’Connell at San Diego State University, including a breakout year in 2007 that led the New England Patriots to select him in the third round of the NFL Draft.
Even then, Long saw the makings of a future head football coach.
“When you coach quarterbacks, you always want to know if players gravitate to that quarterback. Does he have that kind of command? And he certainly did,” Long said. “He took the time with each one of his teammates. He was very inclusive with all of his teammates, and cared about them, and that goes a long way in coaching, too.”
For that reason, Long sees nothing but success in O’Connell’s future as the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. The team formally introduced the 36-year-old on Thursday.
"I'm incredibly excited to be here today to introduce Kevin O'Connell as the 10th head coach of the Minnesota Vikings," said new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah during a press conference on Thursday. "Kevin is a strong leader with a great vision, great communication skills and innovative football mind."
O'Connell shared that excitement during Thursday's introductory press conference.
"I'm incredibly humbled by this, to know that you get the opportunity to lead an organization -- an organization that has a tremendous history, an organization that's had tremendous success on the field and in this community," O'Connell said.
The 36-year-old also spoke about the fan base in Minnesota, calling U.S. Bank one of the hardest venues to play in as an opposing coach.
"The stadium is great. It's special. But the fans that make up the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium is what will mean the most to me, knowing just how passionate and how much they care...about playing great football, competing at the highest level and trying to win every game we play," O'Connell said. "Trying to win championships here is the goal, but it takes a great fanbase to do that."
BELOW: Watch new Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell's full introductory press conference.
O'Connell's arrival also revived old memories for Long as he thought back to his San Diego State days.
“We wish him the best of luck. Minnesota is getting not only a quality coach but a quality person, and that goes a long way outside the playing field,” Long said. “It helps him in the locker room, helps him with day-to-day management of his staff.”
In fact, when Long first took the job with the Aztecs before the 2006 season, he recalls that O’Connell was among the first players to greet him.
"I'm just so happy to see him go onto that trajectory to coaching," Long said. "We knew he had that charisma."
Although O’Connell never had a winning season and never played in a bowl game during his time at San Diego State, including his two final years under Long, he threw for more than 7,000 yards over his college career and exploded on the NFL's draft radar as a senior.
The Southern California native, an alumnus of La Costa Canyon High School near San Diego, played only two games with the Patriots in 2008 but had the distinction of backing up Tom Brady.
That’s a fact that Eric Johnston, co-owner of Three Stars Sports Cards in the Twin Cities, had stored away in his mind for more than a decade.
After the Vikings announced they would hire Kevin O’Connell as head coach, Johnston searched his inventory of nearly four million cards and found that he still possessed an autographed 2008 O’Connell rookie card.
“To have the brain refreshed – the fact that he was Tom Brady’s backup – that was a bit surprising and kind of exciting to see it again,” Johnston said.
He has high hopes for O’Connell, who at 36 is only a few years older than some of the veterans on the Vikings’ roster.
That, of course, is part of O'Connell's appeal, along with his track record as an assistant and offensive coordinator in the NFL ranks.
“To have kind of the new era of coaching come to Minnesota, I think is actually an exciting thing for the team, the players, the city,” Johnston said, “and the state in general.”
PHOTOS: Minnesota Vikings introduce head coach Kevin O'Connell
Watch more of Minnesota sports:
Watch the latest sports videos - from high school hockey to the Minnesota Vikings and everything in between - in our YouTube playlist: