Dane Mizutani: Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah isn’t a traditional football guy. Thank goodness
With a background in analytics, the 40-year-old Adofo-Mensah is a breath of fresh air compared to his peers
EAGAN, Minnesota — 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 his first meeting with Lynch and Shanahan. Though he had a strong background in analytics, notably 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 that opportunity to stand up and say, ‘I don’t know what analytics is,’ ” Adofo-Mensah said. “I think I might’ve laid an expletive in there so I could be a football guy.”
Not a traditional football guy himself — Adofo-Mensah never played in the NFL like Lynch or grew up around the NFL like Shanahan — he was simply trying to make analytics more accessible.
Not long after being hired, Lynch promoted Adofo-Mensah to be director of football research and development for the 49ers. He served in that role for a few years, then as the 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 TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
“I really do believe that 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 the Vikings. Never has an NFL team hired a general manager with Adofo-Mensah’s background.
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 an college professor wearing a tweed jacket, rocking designer glasses and teaching students on a daily basis.
Instead, he broke into the NFL nearly a decade ago, paid his dues like the rest of his peers, and is now getting a chance to lead an NFL team.
Why is Adofo-Mensah the right person for the Vikings? Because he’s not a traditional football guy.
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 throughout his rise up 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 as of late, Adofo-Mensah succinctly described it as gathering information, then using it to make thoughtful assumptions. It’s actually a lot like scouting, he said, even if people don’t see it like that.
“If somebody watches a game, a player, they are making high-level assumptions and observations about what that player is doing,” Adofo-Mensah said. “Now, humans are really great at that complex thinking, and so, a lot of times, that gift becomes a curse. You sometimes will miss the simple thing.”
To that point, Adofo-Mensah looks at analytics as a way to ensure 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 that they are different,” Adofo-Mensah said. “You want one to cover the other in terms of blind spots. It’s just that combined approach. They honestly are the same thing. They are just two different avenues to get there.”
As much as his background is in analytics, it’s also clear that Adofo-Mensah has tremendous people skills. He mentioned how he wants the next head coach of the Vikings to be a partner. He emphasized that he planned to call Vikings players personally to introduce himself. He talked at length about how “suppression of ego” is something that is going to help the Vikings reach the next level.
“I think a lot of times what gets in the way of the collective is people’s individual goals or needs for validation,” Adofo-Mensah said. “If we can avoid that at a high level, we can really get everybody going 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. That’s a good thing. This is the Vikings thinking outside of 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, though, the job is about making decisions, building consensus in the building, combining different sources of information into one answer and having everybody behind it.”
It’s sounds a lot like Wall Street, right? In that sense, there might not be a better person than Adofo-Mensah to do the job.
This is Minnesota Moneyball. And it just might work.