NFL midseason awards: Is Kevin O’Connell the Coach of the Year so far?

The 50 ballots for last year's NFL Coach of the Year had been cast when this voter struck up a conversation with Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell in the hallway at TCO Performance Center.

O'Connell had done a remarkable job winning 13 games and the NFC North as a rookie head coach. But …

Sorry, KO, you finished third on this voter's ballot behind the 49ers' Kyle Shanahan and the Jaguars' Doug Pederson.

O'Connell nodded and said, "That's understandable." He voiced his respect for the other two coaches. The dude seems genuinely nice.

"And," O'Connell added, "I'd agree that what Kyle has done, after all he's been through at the quarterback position … that's amazing."

Shanahan, of course, lost his starting quarterback to injury. Then his backup quarterback. Then rode a rookie third-stringer, Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant, all the way to the NFC title game before he, too, was injured.

We're now midway through the following season. The race for NFL Coach of the Year is as crowded as it was last year when eight coaches received first-place votes, with the Giants' Brian Daboll finishing first ahead of Shanahan as O'Connell finished sixth.

So, who has the halfway lead on this voter's ballot?

O'Connell. Narrowly. And very tentatively, marked with caution that's best described by the quote of the week to come from Vikings headquarters, delivered by the NFL's new favorite rocket scientist/quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

"Each week, there are story lines made," Dobbs said of his unfolding fairytale. "If you don't show up next week, no one cares about last week."

Like Shanahan last year, O'Connell is coaching in uncharted waters. Only KO's seas are choppier.

O'Connell started 2023 by saying good-bye to cap casualties Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson and Za'Darius Smith.

He fired a bad fit (Ed Donatell), then hired the perfect one (Brian Flores) as defentive coordinator.

His offense turned the ball over three times in its first two quarters. His fumble-fingered team started 0-3 and then was 1-4 as O'Connell became the league's first coach to match last year's loss total.

Then he lost his best player (Justin Jefferson). Then he lost a starting quarterback (Kirk Cousins) who had never been injured. Ever. Then he lost his left tackle (Christian Darrisaw) for a game.

O'Connell would have started his first choice as backup quarterback, but Nick Mullens was already on injured reserve. So he started rookie Jaren Hall, who lasted 11 plays Sunday before being concussed. Enter Dobbs, who had arrived via trade five days earlier, hadn't taken a first-team snap in practice and proceeded to beat Atlanta, set Vikings Nation on full Giddy Alert and plant an early flag for KO as NFL Coach of the Year.

To recap, O'Connell is 4-0 without Jefferson and 1-0 without Cousins heading into Sunday's winnable home game against the NFC South-leading Saints. A win, coupled with a Lions loss at the Chargers, and Detroit's lead in the NFC North is down to a half game.

Others no doubt disagree with O'Connell as the midseason frontrunner. Understandably so.

* The Eagles' Nick Sirianni lost both of his coordinators, several premier free agents and has the league's best record.

* Andy Reid would be coach of the decade if the award existed, and yet he's never won coach of the year with the Chiefs.

* Pederson is 6-2 this year, 11-2 in his last 13 games and 15-10 as Jaguars coach. In the 25 games leading up to Pederson's hiring, Jacksonville was 3-22.

* Texans rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans is 4-4. Houston hasn't won five games in a season since 2019.

* Detroit's Dan Campbell is 6-2 this year and 14-4 since last year's 1-6 start. He no doubt sits atop many a midseason NFL Coach of the Year ballots. For good reason. If Campbell goes on to earn Detroit's first division title and home playoff game since 1993, well, he'll be darn near impossible not to vote for.

Just a heads-up, KO, on where you stand next to your new chief rival in one voter's mind.

Other midseason awards leaders:

Most Valuable Player: Myles Garrett, DE, Browns

Defensive Player of the Year: Geno Stone, S, Ravens

Offensive Player of the Year: Christian McCaffrey, RB, 49ers

Offensive Rookie of the Year: C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Carter, DT, Eagles

Comeback Player of the Year: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins

Assistant Coach of the Year: Jim Schwartz, DC, Browns