MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings narrowed their list of candidates for the team’s general manager opening from eight to two finalists. On Tuesday, Cleveland Browns vice president of football operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will have his second interview with the Vikings followed by Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles, who will meet with the team on Wednesday. Both interviews will be conducted in-person at the team’s headquarters.
In the meantime, the Vikings have pressed forward with interviews to find their next head coach. After the 49ers beat Green Bay in the divisional playoffs, San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans spoke with Minnesota on Sunday, the last of eight initial interviews.
While Minnesota’s general manager will be responsible for hiring the team’s replacement for ex-coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings chose to simultaneously conduct interviews for their next coach and GM. According to league rules, if a franchise is interviewing coaches whose teams are headed toward championship weekend, a first interview must have been conducted before the end of the divisional playoffs, otherwise teams will not be able to request to speak to those candidates if their team makes the Super Bowl until after Feb. 14.
With the Vikings closing in on their next general manager, a hire that could take place this week, here’s a look at two candidates whose vastly different backgrounds make for a compelling decision.
Browns general manager Andrew Berry hired Adofo-Mensah from San Francisco in 2020 after he spent seven seasons as the 49ers’ manager – then director – of football research and development. The 40-year-old holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics from Princeton and Stanford, respectively, and had several Wall Street ventures as a portfolio manager and commodities trader before he entered the NFL.
Adofo-Mensah oversees talent evaluators and the analytics team in Cleveland to help Berry gather information to make decisions on roster transactions. He also has contract management experience. Because he doesn’t have the traditional scouting background like others who have interviewed for the Vikings’ GM opening, including Poles, Adofo-Mensah is best suited in a role where he delegates to evaluators to garner the intel needed to make personnel decisions.
"When I sat in a room with great evaluators that I have been around in San Francisco, I just took everything they told me,” Adofo-Mensah told Cleveland media members after he was hired in 2020. “I tried to find the intuition behind it. I ask 'why' a lot. You will find that out about me. I wanted to know even the most simple question. You might think it is simple, but I am building the complex bridge that will get me somewhere complex.”
His background in analytics – along with his ability to utilize quantitative methods to maximize the talent on Cleveland’s roster – make him a nontraditional candidate in Minnesota. Those who have worked with Adofo-Mensah at his various stops consider him process-oriented, which could help the Vikings’ front office change several elements of its operation by using evidence-based research to make decisions in free agency and the draft.
Minnesota chief operating officer Andrew Miller, who organized and is leading the interviews for all the GM and head-coach candidates, was hired by the Vikings in 2019 after a career with the Toronto Blue Jays, for whom he oversaw the improvement of business-related systems and processes. There are similarities in the backgrounds of Miller and Adofo-Mensah, which could foreshadow a shift in the general manager seat in Minnesota to more of a CEO-type leader than scout/evaluator.
Adofo-Mensah interviewed for Carolina’s general manager opening in 2021. In addition to Minnesota, the Browns’ front office VP also interviewed with the Chicago Bears for their general manager vacancy.
Poles has spent his entire 13-year front office career with the Kansas City Chiefs after playing offensive tackle at Boston College from 2004-07. He started with the Chiefs as a player personnel assistant in 2009 and rose through the scouting ranks to his current role as the executive director of player personnel. His area of expertise lies in the evaluation of college players. He spent the 2010-17 seasons in various roles, including the Chiefs’ director of college scouting in 2017, the year Kansas City traded up to land quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
He's 36, and has worked under three different general managers in Kansas City -- Scott Pioli, John Dorsey and now Brett Veach. Poles made it to the second round of interviews with the New York Giants for their general manager opening and has second interviews this week with Minnesota and Chicago.
Poles’ background aligns more with that of former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, whose focus was more on building through the draft than free agency.
“The college side is how you build a roster,” Poles said during a Nunn-Wooten scouting fellowship session last summer while speaking to young scouts about the in-season scouting process. “If I ever become a general manager, that’s how I’d do it.”
The day Minnesota fired both Spielman and Zimmer, Vikings owner Mark Wilf reiterated that he does not believe his team is in the process of rebuilding. Hiring a general manager with extensive experience in the realm of scouting and evaluating could be what the Vikings need to bridge the gap with the players currently on their roster to field a competitive team in 2022. Both of the team’s co-directors of player personnel, Ryan Monnens and Jamaal Stephenson, have 20-plus years of experience in this area, which could meld well with Poles’ philosophy for how to get the Vikings back to being a playoff team.
And Poles’ background as an offensive lineman – along with how well the Chiefs were able to rebuild their O-line – could be an important sell to those making the hire. Minnesota’s offensive line ranked 27th in pass blocking in 2021. The Chiefs revamped their entire OL after last year’s Super Bowl by signing guard Joe Thuney, trading for tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and drafting Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith, both of whom started as rookies for the Chiefs this season.