Vikings’ O’Connell isn’t NFL Coach of the Year anymore. Who is?

Kevin O'Connell was slapped on the back 56 mornings ago for deftly maneuvering his way to the top of this voter's Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year ballot.

It was Nov. 10. O'Connell's Vikings were two days from going 6-4 after a 1-4 start and 5-0 without Justin Jefferson. They were about to win a third straight game with a third different quarterback. And O'Connell's expert handling of newly arrived Joshua Dobbs — the rocket scientist, NASA nerd and beloved "Passtronaut" — was becoming the talk of the league and, as this voter told O'Connell that day, "some special Coach of the Year type work that could provide a finish for the ages" if the Vikings could catch the Lions, who were only 1 ½ games ahead in the NFC North.

In hindsight, sorry for the Jumbo Jinx, Kev.

Since the Nov. 12 win over the Saints, O'Connell is 1-5 with 15 turnovers, 14 by the quarterback. He's benched his quarterback three times in the last four games. The Lions wrested the NFC North title from him at home on Christmas Eve, the Packers embarrassed him 33-10 at home on New Year's Eve and the Bears pulled even with him in the division basement while securing the first overall draft pick via the selection they got from Carolina last spring.


As for the Passtronaut, well, he disintegrated upon reentry, benched during the 3-0 win over the Raiders on Dec. 10 and banished to No. 3 on the depth chart.

Earlier this week, the voter who sang praises to KO back on Nov. 13 couldn't help but finally ask, "What the heck?!" with regard to Dobbs.

"When he first got here, he did an unbelievable job of going out and making some plays within our offense and then being able to make some plays above the offense from an off-schedule standpoint," O'Connell said. "Maybe like other facets of our team, you put that on tape enough and people start trying to defend certain ways that individual player plays and activating some things to try and limit their ability to do some of those things. And maybe as we went on, we saw some of that."

It was O'Connell's job as much-ballyhooed offensive mind, play-caller, QB guru and anti-Mike Zimmer extraordinaire to counter those defensive countermoves and guide his quarterback. He didn't, and that's a big reason the Vikings are down to needing an upset at Detroit and a push from Chicago, Arizona and either Carolina or Atlanta to sneak into the playoffs on Sunday.

Better luck next year, Kevin.

So who now leads the way in the Coach of the Year race with one week to go? Here is this voter's current top five:

4-5. DeMeco Ryans and Shane Steichen: Saturday night's playoff elimination game between Ryans' 9-7 Texans and Steichen's 9-7 Colts will bounce the losing first-year coach from consideration. The 39-year-old defensive-minded Ryans went into Saturday with a league-high six-game improvement over last year's record, while the 38-year-old offensive-minded Steichen went in with a five-game improvement. Ryan improved Houston's scoring defense from 27th to 13th while getting eight wins from rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. Steichen improved Indianapolis' scoring offense from 31st to 10th while getting two wins out of a rookie quarterback (Anthony Richardson) and seven out of backup Gardner Minshew.

3. John Harbaugh: The longtime Ravens coach has a league-high 13 wins, the No. 1 scoring defense, the No. 2 scoring offense, the MVP front-runner (Lamar Jackson) and walloping wins over division leaders San Francisco (33-19), Detroit (38-6), Jacksonville (23-7) and Miami (56-19).

2. Dan Campbell: Clinched Detroit's first division title and home playoff game in 30 years. THIRTY!

1. Kevin Stefanski: The former Vikings offensive coordinator won the award as a rookie head coach in Cleveland in 2020. This year, in football's toughest division, he's 11-5 and has clinched the AFC's fifth seed while …

— Losing his best offensive player, running back Nick Chubb, in Week 2.

— Losing his $230 million quarterback, Deshaun Watson, after six starts (5-1).

— Becoming the first coach in NFL history to reach the playoffs with four quarterbacks starting multiple games.

— Overcoming a league-high 35 turnovers.

— Going 7-0 when the opposition scores fewer than 21 points, 2-1 when it scores 31 or more points, and beating the Ravens in Baltimore 33-31.

— Beating the 49ers with PJ Walker at quarterback.

— Beating the Steelers with rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback.

And …

— Plucking 38-year-old Joe Flacco off the NFL's unemployment pile and then him playing so well (4-1) that he will spend Week 18 resting up for the playoffs.