Rivera was high on O'Connell and the 34-year-old had heard great things about Rivera. The two talked and had terrific conversations, however as the process went forward it became clear the partnership was not going to work out. It did not come from O'Connell having a burning desire to leave, as he has a terrific relationship with Dwayne Haskins and would have loved the chance to keep working with him.
However, Rivera started hiring a number of coaches he had worked with in Carolina. As time went on, it was clear O'Connell would not get to fill out his own staff and the two had a discussion and determined they would move in separate directions. That eventual decision to go separate ways was cordial, and a source described the process as going "as good as these things can possibly go."
O'Connell's year in Washington started under Jay Gruden as a non-play-calling offensive coordinator. It was his job to design the game plan, but it was also his job to manage a staff that had very different and dividing factions.
Gruden was a pass-heavy thinker while Bill Callahan thought the offense should flow through the ground game. O'Connell's job was to mix the philosophies into a best possible outcome. This task was made harder by constantly changing personnel, including the loss of Jordan Reed for the entire season. The Redskins simply didn't have the weapons they planned on having and they knew they were short in that department to begin with.
When Gruden was fired, Callahan said that O'Connell would call the offense and that it was his to create. This quickly proved untrue. Multiple sources told 106.7 The Fan throughout the season that O'Connell and Callahan clashed with the now changed power dynamic. Callahan wanted to establish the ground game and demand a heavy dosage of run on early downs. This often left 3rd-and-long situations where opposing pass defenses could play more complex coverages behind exotic blitzes, because they didn't have to worry about run fits. This caused frustration, not only for O'Connell and other offensive staffers, but the quarterbacks themselves.
Eventually O'Connell was able to take charge, starting in Minnesota where he called an incredibly varied first half in Case Keenum's return to action. The Redskins marched up and down the field, using everything from deep patterns to tight end screens intermixed with running the ball, until Keenum got concussed just before halftime. Dwayne Haskins came into the game using the same plan to move the football, until he overthrew Terry McLaurin in a critical spot and was intercepted. Callahan determined that the rookie wasn't ready for that type of volume and the Redskins offense returned to a run-heavy plan, despite a lead they would never recover from.
The plan stayed in Callahan's lane for Haskins' first start against Buffalo. Windy conditions also limited the viability of the passing game and the Redskins offense looked inept. Haskins threw for just 144 yards and there was palpable frustration after the game.
The Redskins did a lot of introspection during the bye week and the play-calling seemed to indicate that O'Connell gained more power. The first game out was a wash because the Jets jumped out to such a massive early lead, but Haskins never quit and found some rhythm late in the game.
The Redskins were then able to string together back-to-back wins as Haskins started to show improvement, aided by the play-calling. The Redskins started to look more unpredictable and the offense started to gel, just as the injury bug finally settled on that side of the ball. O'Connell started to feature Steven Sims, Jr., as the rookie had advanced enough in the offense. Teams focused on Terry McLaurin and Sims became the starter after Trey Quinn's season-ending injury.
In his last four games, Sims had 20 catches for 230 yards and four touchdowns. That is an 80-catch-for-920-yards-and-16-TD pace if projected out to a full 16-game season.
Ultimately the season's results were enough that Rivera was interested in keeping O'Connell, but as the staff started to fill out it was clear that a unified vision might not be attainable within the offensive staff. As mentioned, O'Connell has a relationship with Turner, but some of the other former Panthers hires were people he did not know. Rivera and O'Connell both believe in having a single vision, but the longer the process went it became clear they may not have one. Rivera also started interviewing other candidates and in return, O'Connell asked to be able to speak to other teams, just in case.
That understanding and willingness to communicate helped the eventual separation be as amicable as they can be in the NFL, per a source familiar with the process, however the result is the same – O'Connell is looking for another job.
He will not have to look long. O'Connell and Josh McDaniels are very close friends, and O'Connell has described the Patriots offensive coordinator as one of his mentors. They share a vision and it's a near lock that the now former Redskins employee will be McDaniels' offensive coordinator if he lands a head coaching position. If McDaniels does not get a job this round, O'Connell will have options. A source told 106.7 The Fan multiple teams have reached out to O'Connell, who is currently mulling his options while waiting on McDaniels' fate.
O'Connell was under contract in Washington and the team did block him from other opportunities last offseason. That was common practice under former team president Bruce Allen, and the cordiality of the process that has ultimately led to this change should be seen as a sign of the changing times in Ashburn.