Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is not a traditional football man. thank God

EAGAN, Minnesota — Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spent a few years with the San Francisco 49ers when in 2017 the franchise hired John Lynch as its next general manager and Kyle Shanahan as its next head coach.

Even now, Adofo-Mensah vividly remembers his first meeting with Lynch and Shanahan. Though he had a strong background in analysis, particularly commodities trading on Wall Street before breaking into the NFL, when it was his turn to speak, Adofo-Mensah decided to kid himself.

“I took the opportunity to stand up and say, ‘I don’t know what analysis is,'” Adofo-Mensah said. “I think maybe I put an expletive in it so I could be a football man.”

Not a traditional soccer man himself — Adofo-Mensah never played in the NFL like Lynch or grew up in the NFL like Shanahan — he was just trying to make analysis more accessible.

It worked.

Not long after he was hired, Lynch promoted Adofo-Mensah to director of football research and development for the 49ers. He held that role for a few years, then as vice president of football operations for the Cleveland Browns, before the Vikings selected Adofo-Mensah as their next general manager.

He was introduced Thursday morning in his new role at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

“I do believe I was meant to be your general manager,” Adofo-Mensah said. “It was just the intent.”

This is a risky move with a high reward for the Vikings. Never has an NFL team hired a general manager with Adofo-Mensah’s background.

He received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton and a master’s degree in economics from Stanford. In another universe, Adofo-Mensah is a college professor who wears a tweed jacket, wears eye-catching designer glasses, and teaches students daily.

Instead, he broke into the NFL nearly a decade ago, paid his dues like the rest of his peers, and now gets the chance to lead an NFL team.

Why is Adofo-Mensah the right person for the Vikings? Because he is not a traditional football man.

His background in analytics allows him to separate the forest from the trees. He doesn’t think he has all the answers. He looks at the facts and makes decisions based on those facts.

That has served him well during his rise in the ranks and will continue to serve him well as he tries to bring a Super Bowl win to Minnesota.

While the concept of analysis has recently acquired negative connotations in some circles, Adofo-Mensah succinctly described it as gathering information and then using it to make thoughtful assumptions. It’s actually a lot like Scouting, he said, even though people don’t see it that way.

“When someone watches a game, a player, he makes high-level assumptions and observations about what that player is doing,” said Adofo-Mensah. “Now people are really great at that complex thinking, and so that gift often becomes a curse. Sometimes you miss the simple.”

Until then, Adofo-Mensah sees analytics as a way to make sure simple things aren’t missed. He added that he still sees value in scouting in the traditional sense. Think of it as checks and balances.

“You appreciate they’re different,” Adofo-Mensah said. “You want one to cover the other in terms of blind spots. It’s just that combined approach. They are honestly the same. It’s just two different roads to get there.”

As much as his background is in analytics, it’s also clear that Adofo-Mensah has amazing people skills. He said he wants the next Vikings head coach to become a partner. He stressed that he intended to personally call Vikings players to introduce themselves. He spoke at length about how “ego suppression” is something that will help the Vikings reach the next level.

“I think what stands in the way of the collective is often people’s individual goals or needs for validation,” Adofo-Mensah said. “If we can avoid that at a high level, we can really send everyone in the same direction. I hope to have that here.”

His mentality is a breath of fresh air. Just listening to Adofo-Mensah speak, it’s clear he’s not former CEO Rick Spielman. That’s a good thing. These are the Vikings who think outside the box in a bid to win a Super Bowl.

“I know my background is unique,” Adofo-Mensah said. “However, when we 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 everyone behind it.”

It’s a lot like Wall Street, isn’t it? In that sense, perhaps there is no better person than Adofo-Mensah to do the job.

This is Minnesota Moneyball. And it just might.

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