EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spent his first eight years out of Princeton on Wall Street, working as a commodities trader and portfolio manager.
Crossing the country to further his education and become an economics professor at Stanford was just the start of a sharp turn on the career path that led him to the NFL.
“I was going to wear a tweed jacket and glasses and teach students,” Adofo-Mensah said, “and I still had a lot of decision making in me. I wanted to be part of it in a practical sense.
He is now the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, a decidedly unconventional move from an ever-competitive franchise that has gone 61 seasons without winning a championship.
“I know my background is unique, but when you think about this job, the job is about making decisions, building consensus, combining different sources of information into one answer, and having everyone behind,” Adofo-Mensah said during his introductory press conference at Vikings headquarters on Thursday. “In that sense, I don’t think there are many people more qualified than me.”
The emotional stability that has served him well in the volatility that exists in the financial sector, Adofo-Mensah said, is useful in the high-intensity, high-stakes world of professional football. Nor is the ability to pick the right stocks at the right price that much different from building an NFL roster through free agency and the draft under a salary cap system.
“It’s just a different canvas with the same art, I would say,” he said.
Despite having no experience on the pitch, Adofo-Mensah, 40, has nine seasons in the league under his belt. He started with the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 in the research and development department, after deciding that the PhD program at Stanford was not his calling. His foot in the door was made possible by a connection made at a sports analysis conference with Brian Hampton, now vice president of football administration with the 49ers.
While leading the club’s efforts to use advanced quantitative methods for game strategy and personnel evaluation, the 49ers promoted him twice. Then he left in 2020 for Cleveland to become vice president of football operations, the best assistant to general manager Andrew Berry.
“In the NFL, I learned from some great teachers. I went into it not thinking I knew anything, and I think a lot of times a barrier to learning is trying to affirm what you already think or not have an open heart and an open mind about learning,” said Adofo-Mensah, whose parents emigrated from Ghana and settled in New Jersey. fiancée accompanied him on Thursday.
His profile raised in part by the NFL’s efforts to place more minorities in leadership positions in the league, Adofo-Mensah came with the full backing of his two-year-old boss, Berry, who praised his interpersonal skills and his natural curiosity.
When they debriefed after Adofo-Mensah’s initial video interview with the Vikings on January 17, Berry observed that his deputy was “buzzing” after his first interaction with Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf and the other principals. leaders of the organization involved in the research process.
Realizing that Adofo-Mensah was well on his way to eventually leading a team, Berry intentionally tasked him with many aspects of player evaluation and labor contract negotiation that Adofo-Mensah was not exposed to in research and development.
“You push him into the deep end and he learned to swim very quickly,” Berry said.
With the 49ers, Adofo-Mensah taught young players financial literacy, a vital path to developing connections with the people whose football skills are the very reason the NFL exists. Those interactions will now be more important to him than ever, as the face of the front office and the final decider of the contract signings and draft picks that make up the roster each year.
The most critical relationship, of course, will be with the head coach who has yet to be hired. Vikings management conducted initial interviews with eight candidates to avoid falling behind in the process with eight other teams also on the hunt this offseason. One of them, Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, was called off the market by the Denver Broncos.
Adofo-Mensah rode 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans during his time there, which could put him on the shortest roster. The 49ers play Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams.
“I always say a coach I would work with, I would work for. He’s someone I would want to associate with,” Adofo-Mensah said, dismissing whether he had full authority over the list in his contract “I wouldn’t mind that accolade as they understand the staff and life of today and tomorrow which would make us a great partnership.”
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