New Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah comes from data-driven research, previously telling Cleveland reporters that he's always been "passionate about decision-making under uncertainty," searching for best bets whether in Wall Street trading or the future of NFL players.
First, the 40-year-old rookie GM will have to help decide on the next Vikings head coach. Co-owner Mark Wilf said this month the new GM will "have input" in the coaching hire. That input could carry the most weight, considering Adofo-Mensah's mathematical approach isn't every coach's style.
The Vikings' internal search team has already interviewed eight candidates: Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who interviewed with the Vikings over videoconferencing on Jan. 16, reportedly accepted the Broncos job on Thursday morning, according to ESPN. Quinn is considered a finalist for the Bears job.
The four candidates from teams not playing — Quinn, Moore, Gannon and Bowles — are immediately available for second interviews. But the three coaching in conference championship games — Morris, O'Connell and Ryans — can't talk again until after Sunday. Other candidates could also emerge with a new GM in the fold. An update to the Rooney Rule in October now requires at least one in-person interview for minority candidates in both GM and head coach searches.
Coaching candidates know what direction the Vikings are headed under Adofo-Mensah, previously one of the Browns' top analytics assistants from what might be the biggest research department on an NFL team. Last year, the Browns had six employees dedicated to research, not including its open-minded leaders in Adofo-Mensah, formerly the vice president of football operations; General Manager Andrew Berry and Paul DePodesta, the chief strategy officer and a former baseball executive who was featured in "Moneyball."
"We unearth every piece of information," Adofo-Mensah told Cleveland reporters during the 2021 draft. "We really do believe in the process we have. It is extremely inclusive. Everybody from the coaching staff, the football operations and the scouting staff is all united in what we are doing and how we are going about it."
The Wilfs will want similar collaboration between Adofo-Mensah, who picked up scouting experience in Cleveland but is primarily from the research side, and the next head coach. Former Vikings assistant Kevin Stefanski assured Browns leadership of that before accepting their head coaching job in 2020.
Adofo-Mensah has connections to Ryans, the 37-year-old defensive coordinator who overlapped three years in San Francisco with him, and O'Connell, the Rams offensive coordinator who worked special projects in San Francisco in 2016. Gannon, the Eagles defensive coordinator, left good impressions during his time as a Vikings defensive backs assistant coach from 2014-2017, and comes from another franchise where the analytics embrace was initiated at the top with owner Jeffrey Lurie.
Morris, the Rams defensive coordinator, is known for saying, "stats are for losers," but he has explained it as a way of motivating players to focus on winning over numbers.
"Because of my background with the more quantitative side, and now really breaching over to the traditional [scouting] side, I am able to provide perspective that not everybody has," Adofo-Mensah told Cleveland reporters last year. "I can communicate to our scouts, 'Hey, these are the types of things we see on the mathematical side, and this is why you see it on the field.'"
The Vikings had four employees in analytics under former General Manager Rick Spielman, who touted algorithms that combined a variety of scores, from athletic to psychological, to pinpoint the best fits in the draft.
But the data-driven approach struggled to further make an impact under former head coach Mike Zimmer, whom Spielman alluded to when asked about the coaching hiring cycle this week on Fox Sports Radio. Spielman said the No. 1 priority in hiring should be the relationship between the head coach and quarterback.
"Can a defensive head coach connect with that quarterback?" Spielman said. "You know an offensive coach probably will be able to, because that's his job, but can a defensive head coach do the same thing?"