As new Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah told it in his introductory news conference on Thursday, he logged off his first Zoom interview with the team on Jan. 17 convinced he’d met his match.
“I was catching up with [Browns GM Andrew Berry] afterward, and I was just like, ‘Man, they were so detail-oriented, so process-driven,'” said Adofo-Mensah, who was Berry’s vice president of football operations in Cleveland. you’ve found your people.’ And I was just like, ‘Yeah. I think it made sense, man.”‘”
He logged off the call and left his study at his Cleveland home, coming down the stairs with a skip in his step. His fiancee bought a Vikings hat on Etsy a few minutes later; she wore it to TCO Performance Center in Eagan on Thursday.
“I really do believe I was meant to be your general manager,” Adofo-Mensah said. “I think it was just meant to be.”
It will be the decisions Adofo-Mensah makes in a pivotal offseason, and the results they produce in the months and years ahead, that will determine how his era of Vikings football is ultimately remembered. His first news conference focused more on his unique path — from Princeton to Wall Street and then to Stanford before reaching the NFL — than on specifics about the choices he will make.
But as he outlined his approach to the job on Thursday, he made it clear he believes his unorthodox path to the job will actually be an advantage.
“When you think about this job, the job is about making decisions, building consensus in the building, combining different sources of information into one answer and having everybody behind it. Along those lines, I don’t think there’s many people more qualified than I am,” Adofo-Mensah said. “Just my background on Wall Street, having the stability to make those decisions at a high level, be accountable to yourself and kind of learning and growing from that standpoint, that’s an education that I’ll never fully appreciate. And then my experience in the NFL.
“I went in not thinking I knew anything. I think a lot of times, an impediment to learning is trying to affirm what you already think or not being open-hearted and open-minded about learning.”
Adofo-Mensah’s first, and perhaps most important, decision as Vikings GM will be to lead the search for a new head coach. Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf said Adofo-Mensah is already involved in the process, with the GM describing them as initial conversations. The team planned to discuss coaching candidates more on Thursday.
His summary of the ideal candidate sounded closely aligned with what Wilf talked about after firing GM Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer on Jan. 10.
“We know what we want to find,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We want leadership, we want somebody who is going to value the collective over the individual, we want somebody who has a vision, who can communicate, who has a solid football foundation, who understands how football is interconnected and what that means.”
The Vikings’ internal search team has interviewed eight candidates: Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Hackett, who interviewed with the Vikings over videoconference on Jan. 16, accepted the Broncos job on Thursday, while Quinn reportedly will stay in Dallas after the Broncos picked Hackett and the Bears hired Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Adofo-Mensah said the Vikings’ coaching search was focused on finding “a partner for me.” He would not say Thursday if his contract granted him full control over the Vikings’ roster, as Spielman had.
“I always say that with a coach, a coach that I would work with, I would work for,” he said. “It’s somebody that I would want to partner with. I wouldn’t care about that distinction because they understand about personnel and about living in today and living in tomorrow that would make us a great partnership. I guess I know what the specifics of my contract say, but I don’t think it really matters to speak in this forum.”
Vikings chief operating officer Andrew Miller, who is leading the Vikings’ job searches this offseason, met the 40-year-old Adofo-Mensah years ago. They both came to professional sports through Wall Street, and while at Princeton, Adofo-Mensah roomed with Mike Chernoff, who worked in a front office with Miller and Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey before becoming the Cleveland Guardians’ GM.
While data-driven decision-making processes are commonplace in many MLB and NBA front offices by this point, they’re still somewhat new in the NFL, where the group Adofo-Mensah worked in under Berry is still of a rare sort.
As Adofo-Mensah succeeds Spielman, a GM with a scouting background, he might have to help the team’s front office adjust to a new way of doing things. The approach, Berry said, should be viewed as a complement to scouting, not a replacement for it.
“To be totally honest, I think actually a little bit too much is made about the whole analytics stigma, so to speak,” Berry said in a videoconference with Minnesota reporters on Thursday. “And I think, really, any high-functioning office, whether it’s in the NFL or across other sports, looks to bring different perspectives to the table with decision-making. And using a variety of sources of information, weighting them accurately, that allows the decision maker in any space — whether it’s on roster decisions, game-day decisions or medical/performance decisions, contract-management decisions, you name it — to really make the best choice for the organization. that Kwesi’s going to bring. He’s going to bring a number of different expertises to the table.”
While working for the 49ers, Adofo-Mensah kept a picture of the legendary coach Bill Walsh in his office. “In case I thought I was figuring out the world, I would just humble myself and look at him,” he said.
As he figures things out in Minnesota, he will lean on a mantra he learned from his mother, Emma, who sat between Adofo-Mensah’s agent and his fiancee during Thursday’s news conference.
He became emotional as he explained that she was the first person to teach about process over results by saying, “All I can do is work.”
“When I see problems now, I kind of get this smile on my face and I think of my mom,” he said. “I roll up my sleeves and that’s when I’m most comfortable.”
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