Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is not a traditional footballer. Thank God

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EAGAN, Minn. — Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had been with the San Francisco 49ers for a few years when in 2017 the franchise hired John Lynch to be the next general manager and Kyle Shanahan to be the next head coach.

Even now, Adofo-Mensah vividly remembers her first encounter with Lynch and Shanahan. Although he had a strong analytical background, including trading commodities on Wall Street before breaking into the NFL, when it was his turn to speak, Adofo-Mensah decided to poke fun at himself.

“I took this opportunity to stand up and say, ‘I don’t know what analysis is,’ Adofo-Mensah said. “I think I might have put an expletive in there. so I can be a football guy.”

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

It worked.

Shortly after being hired, Lynch promoted Adofo-Mensah to director of football research and development for the 49ers. He held that position for a few years, then as vice president of football operations for the Cleveland Browns, before the Vikings selected Adofo-Mensah to be their next general manager.

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

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

This is a high risk, high reward move for Vikings. Never has an NFL team hired a general manager with Adofo-Mensah’s experience.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton and a master’s degree in economics from Stanford. In an alternate universe, Adofo-Mensah is a college professor wearing a tweed jacket, wearing designer glasses, and teaching students daily.

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

Why is Adofo-Mensah the right fit for the Vikings? Because he’s not a traditional footballer.

His experience in analysis 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.

It has served him well throughout his rise through the ranks and will continue to serve him well as he tries to bring a Super Bowl victory to Minnesota.

While the concept of analytics has taken on a negative connotation in some circles lately, Adofo-Mensah succinctly described it as gathering information and then using it to make thoughtful assumptions. It’s actually a bit like scouting, he says, even though people don’t see it that way.

“If someone watches a game, a player, they make high-level assumptions and observations about what that player is doing,” Adofo-Mensah said. “Now humans are really good at this complex thinking, and so often that gift becomes a curse. Sometimes you will miss the simplest thing.

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

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

Even though her background is in analytics, it’s also clear that Adofo-Mensah has tremendous interpersonal skills. He mentioned that he wanted the next Vikings head coach to be a partner. He pointed out that he plans to personally call the Vikings players to introduce himself. He spoke at length about how “ego suppression” is something that will help Vikings reach the next level.

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

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

“I know my background is unique,” Adofo-Mensah said. “When we think about this job, however, the job is about making decisions, building consensus in the building, combining different sources of information into one answer, and having everyone behind it.”

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

It’s Minnesota Moneyball. And it could work.

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