PHOENIX — After his introductory news conference a year ago, Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell met with Bud Grant, who had watched the session from a seat in the back of the Vikings' field house. The team kept an office for the Hall of Fame coach in its headquarters; Grant, then 94, mentioned to O'Connell he'd recently been spending more time there.
"That day, he said something along the lines of, 'We should grab lunch next week,'" O'Connell said at the NFL owners' meetings on Tuesday. "And I said, 'Coach, anytime. We can have a meal together, where you can just come by. I'd love to come up to your office on the third floor.' And he kind of just took me up on it."
Their first lunch led to weekly Thursday get-togethers during the season; longtime Vikings PR director Bob Hagan, a friend of Grant's for years, helped connect the team's winningest head coach and its newest. Each week, Grant arrived with advice or a quip; O'Connell cherished the sessions as a respite during his week.
"That meeting became part of my process on Thursdays right in the middle of the week, when you've kind of been grinding on the game plan," O'Connell said. "He always had a one-liner or something that would just put a smile on my face and bring some levity to what we all take very seriously each and every week. So that was really cool."
The coach opened his news conference on Tuesday by paying homage to Grant, who died March 11.
"Those weekly get-togethers with both him and Pat [Smith, Grant's partner], I'll miss those," O'Connell said. "I'll miss being around him. But I feel so fortunate to have had this year with him."
Need numbers at cornerback
O'Connell said Byron Murphy Jr., the former Cardinals cornerback the Vikings signed during the first week of free agency, could play an outside corner spot in the team's base defense and shift to the slot in nickel packages, much like Jalen Ramsey did with the Rams when O'Connell was there.
"He's so instinctive. He's got great ball skills," O'Connell said of Murphy. "I think the number one thing that jumped out at me is just, this guy loves football. Loves competing. He's played a lot of football. I think that flex of his inside/out [ability] is a positive."
O'Connell said second-year players Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans continue to work their way back from injuries at the Vikings' facility this offseason.
"Those guys are in the building every day. They're pushing each other," he said. "They're doing all the things that we're asking of them right now in what, really, is a voluntary basis."
But the coach added that the Vikings need to acquire more cornerbacks.
"I think we need to add through the draft or possibly some other veterans," O'Connell said. "We need to add some more numbers in that room."
A no for neutral sites
Though the NFL's January announcement it had sold 50,000 tickets for a possible AFC Championship Game between the Chiefs and Bills in Atlanta sparked rumors the league could push for neutral-site conference title games in the future, Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf said Tuesday the idea hadn't been discussed in any of the sessions during the owners' meetings this week.
Wilf added he hoped the conference championship games would stay at home sites.
"I don't recall it coming up in any of the meetings, frankly," he said. "I will tell you this: We're very much in favor having conference championships, hopefully at U.S. Bank Stadium. I think that's a great tradition and a great piece of the NFL that I hope will remain."