Vikings GM Finalists Similar But Not Really

Photos: Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs

The Minnesota Vikings narrowed their list of general manager candidates from eight to two on Friday afternoon. Browns VP of Football Operations, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (Age: 40) and Chiefs Director of Player Personnel, Ryan Poles (Age: 36) are the only two Zoom interviewees left standing and both are scheduled to meet with Zygi, Mark and the gang in-person on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. By the end of next week, the Vikings are expected to name their new GM.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

After some alarming statements from key players, following Spielman and Zimmer’s firings, Mark Wilf sat down with media and laid out their planned process for hiring their next head coach and general manager. Their Owner/President made it very clear in that press conference that the Vikings wanted to go full Timberwolves/Twins on their front office with this hire.

They were looking for a young, smart and on-the-rise general manager who can fill a corporate buzzword bingo card whenever he sees a microphone. In that way, both Adofo-Mensah and Poles fit the bill perfectly.

Similarities End After “Collaboration” Synonyms

What makes these two finalists so intriguing, however, is what makes them different. Ryan Poles is a football guy. He played offensive line at Boston College, where he blocked for Matt Ryan in the mid-2000’s. After that, Poles jumped right into football scouting. First for his alma-mater then for the Chiefs, where he’s spent the last 13 years climbing their front office ladder.

When Ryan Poles was enrolling at Boston College, Kwesi Adolfo-Mensah was finishing his degree and basketball career at Princeton. After graduating in 2003, he began his professional life as a Wall Street trader and portfolio manager. It wasn’t until graduating with a Master’s degree in economics (Stanford – 2013) 10 years later that Adofo-Mensah made a career change.

That’s when he got a job with the 49ers where he quickly worked his way up their front office ladder. By 2017 Kwesi was promoted to Director of Football Research and Development. Then, the Browns tapped him to be their VP of Football Operations before the 2020 season.

Football Guy vs Analytics Guy

This isn’t your classic old school vs new school dual. There’s no crusty old “ball guy” trying to kick nerds off his front porch. But still, the contrasts in experience and style that they’d bring to the Minnesota Vikings are clear.

In one hand you have Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, an analytics whiz who found his football calling later in his career. Hiring him would mean jumping head first into a numbers-first approach, something that’s become somewhat of his calling card in QB evaluation.

But in the other hand, there’s Ryan Poles, who might give the Minnesota Vikings the best of both worlds. Poles reportedly killed his first interview with the Vikings, which shouldn’t have been a surprise because he did the same thing last year in Carolina, when he made the lists of finalists for their GM opening at the ripe age of 35.

Because of that, I’d have to make Ryan Poles the heavy favorite to win the job next week. We know the Wilfs want to make sweeping changes in the way they operate their football team. But Kwesi Adofo-Mensah represents the type of risk that this ownership group seems unlikely to take.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan