Kwesi Adofo-Mensah takes the reins of Vikings: ‘I was meant to be your general manager’
Adofo-Mensah, 40, comes to the Vikings after spending seven seasons in the front office of the San Francisco 49ers and two years with the Browns.
EAGAN, Minnesota — On a snowy day in Cleveland last week, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah figured he was destined to become the Vikings’ new general manager.
Adofo-Mensah, then the Browns’ vice president of football operations, had a virtual interview Jan. 17 with the Vikings committee working to select the replacement for Rick Spielman. The Vikings fired Spielman on Jan. 10 along with head coach Mike Zimmer.
Adofo-Mensah stayed at home that day and didn’t go into the Browns offices due to bad weather. He immediately felt comfortable during the interview, and figured he soon would be getting a different set of business cards.
“From the moment I jumped on the interview … it was just an immediate fit,” he said Thursday. “It just felt right. … I really do believe that I was meant to be your general manager.”
After that virtual interview, Adofo-Mensah came to Minnesota for a second interview Tuesday. He was named the Vikings’ general manager on Wednesday, and was introduced at a news conference Thursday at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
Adofo-Mensah, 40, comes to the Vikings after spending seven seasons in the front office of the San Francisco 49ers and two years with the Browns. After his virtual interview, he told Browns general manager Andrew Berry he had a feeling he would be moving on.
“I was catching up with A.B. afterward, and we were talking about things, and I was like, ‘Man, they were so detail-oriented, so process-driven,’ ” Adofo-Mensah said. “And he’s like, ‘It sounds like you’ve found your people.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think it made sense.’ I came downstairs (at his home) and I was kind of like skipping.”
Adofo-Mensah then told his fiancée how he felt, and he said she immediately ordered a Vikings hat online. She wore it while attending Thursday’s event.
Now, Adofo-Mensah figuratively will put on his general manager hat, and there is plenty of immediate work to do. After his session with the media, the personable Adofo-Mensah was planning to start calling Vikings players, and he wants to get to know everybody in the organization. He already has plunged into Minnesota’s search to replace Zimmer.
Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf said when Spielman and Zimmer were fired that a general manager would be hired first, and the general manager would have input on hiring a coach. The Vikings have had virtual interviews so far with eight coaching candidates, although two are no longer in the mix — Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who will take the Denver Broncos’ head position, and Dan Quinn, who has elected to remain the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.
The other candidates who have interviewed are Todd Bowles, Jonathan Gannon, Kellen Moore, Raheem Morris, Kevin O’Connell and DeMeco Ryans. Adofo-Mensah declined to speculate on whether the next coach is likely to come from that group or whether the field might be expanded.
“We’re going to dive into this head-coaching search and bring a partner for me and this organization that’s going to lead us where we want to go,” Adofo-Mensah said.
Adofo-Mensah made it clear where he wants the Vikings to go.
“Our job here is to win divisions, make the playoffs and pursue championships,” he said.
Adofo-Mensah was among eight GM candidates to have virtual interviews with the committee, which included owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, chief operating officer Andrew Miller, executive vice president Rob Brzezinski, co-directors of player personnel Ryan Monnens and Jamaal Stephenson, and director of inclusion and employee investment Anne Doepner. The list was pared to two finalists — Adofo-Mensah and Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles, who was scheduled to have a second interview Wednesday in Minnesota before accepting the Chicago Bears’ general manager job on Tuesday.
“Kwesi has a strong leadership presence, a unique background and a variety of strong football experiences, which we believe are significant strengths as he assumes this role,” Mark Wilf said Thursday. “He immediately stood out to us in his interviews because of his long-term success and his comprehensive information gathering and his intentional decision-making processes. He’s a tremendous leader.”
Adofo-Mensah does not have the traditional background of an NFL general manager. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2003 from Princeton, where he played junior-varsity basketball, before working as a day trader on Wall Street from 2003-11. He then went to Stanford from 2011-13, and earned a master’s degree in economics.
“I was at Stanford to become an econ professor,” Adofo-Mensah said. “I was going to wear a tweed jacket, glasses, and teach students.”
Instead, Adofo-Mensah, who grew up a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan in Cherry Hill, N.J., decided to follow a longtime dream and get into sports. He went to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, and was steered by Daniel Adler, now assistant general manager of the Twins, to 49ers vice president of football administration Brian Hampton.
That led to Adofo-Mensah serving with the 49ers as manager of football research and development from 2013-16 and director of football research and development from 2017-19. While he gained a reputation then for being an analytics expert, he doesn’t like that description. He pointed to 2017, when John Lynch became San Francisco’s general manager and Kyle Shanahan the head coach.
“We had a meeting where everybody goes around the room and introduces themselves, and I took that opportunity to stand up and say ‘I don’t know what analytics is,’ and I think I might’ve laid an expletive in there so I could be an extra football guy,” Adofo-Mensah said. “For me, it’s about being thoughtful and intentional.”
When Adofo-Mensah was with the 49ers, he kept a picture of on his desk of hall of famer Bill Walsh, who coached the team to three Super Bowl wins in the 1980s, had two stints as general manager, and died in 2007. He learned about Walsh, and details he paid attention to in building the 49ers.
After Adofo-Mensah was hired by the Browns, he developed a close bond with Berry, whom he calls his mentor. Adofo-Mensah was appreciative of being able to work in numerous aspects of the organization, which he expects will help him now as a general manager.
Adofo-Mensah learned the motto of “no stone unturned” from Berry and said that’s “what we’ll live by at the Vikings.”
During his news conference, Adofo-Mensah thanked Berry and numerous others who have helped him along the way. He became emotional when talking about his mother Emma, whom he called a “super hero.” He said she always pushed him to “try your hardest” and prepare well for all circumstances.
Now, Adofo-Mensah will take on the challenge of being the Vikings’ general manager.
“I know my background is unique,” he said. “But 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.”