The Vikings won’t play their next game until September, but Kwesi Adofo-Mensah picked up a victory on Thursday by knocking his introductory press conference out of the park. At least that’s how many of the Vikings’ faithful felt after the new general manager got done addressing the media at TCO Performance Center.
Adofo-Mensah, who has degrees from Princeton and Stanford, knows that making a positive first impression is the easy part. The real work started when he returned to his new office and looked at a massive to-do list.
Atop that list was the responsibility of deciding on whom will be his choice to replace Mike Zimmer as coach. Following a year, or more, of infighting and dysfunction in the relationships between former GM Rick Spielman and Zimmer, owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have made it clear that collaboration will be the name of the game for Adofo-Mensah and his new coach.
The seven person committee the Vikings put together to identify a general manager and coach, will have a say on the latter hire but Adofo-Mensah must be certain that he can have an outstanding working relationship with the coach.
What isn’t clear is who will have final say on the 53-man roster. Adofo-Mensah, 40, was asked about this and declined to go into specifics. Brad Childress had final say on the roster during his four-plus seasons as coach, and Spielman had it during his 10 years as general manager. There also was a two-year period where coach Leslie Frazier and Spielman both had that responsibility, but that ended up backfiring because ultimately the GM and coach often have different agendas.
It’s easy on a calm January day for Adofo-Mensah to talk about collaboration. But when the pressure is on, and the coach is thinking about the present, while the GM wants to protect the future, it’s easy for problems to arise. Ultimately, somebody has to make the final call.
That will be true of hiring the coach as well. There were nine openings in the NFL on Thursday morning and by the afternoon that number was down to seven. The Bears hired Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and the Broncos went with Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett had interviewed with the Vikings and there was believed to still be interest in him.
It’s likely the top three finalists for the Vikings’ job all will be coaching in the NFC championship game on Sunday. Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans all have interviewed for the Vikings job. The more each of them knows about analytics, the better, considering Adofo-Mensah’s background is in that area of the game.
O’Connell, 36, does not call plays for the Rams — that responsibility is held by coach Sean McVay — but the former San Diego State quarterback has been an assistant in the NFL since 2015 and an offensive coordinator for the past three years. The first of those came in O’Connell’s third season with the Washington Football Team. He also was Kirk Cousins’ quarterbacks coach in 2017.
O’Connell’s experience is similar to Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who has his team in the AFC title game. Taylor, 38, spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons working on McVay’s coaching staff, including his second year as quarterbacks coach, before being hired by Cincinnati. An association with McVay, a top offensive mind, is viewed as a major plus.
Morris, 45, is the only one of the three candidates with previous head coaching experience — he coached Tampa Bay from 2009-11 and was the interim coach for Atlanta for 11 games last season — and while he mainly has worked on the defensive side of the ball as an assistant, he was the Falcons’ pass game coordinator for five seasons and wide receivers coach for four.
The 37-year-old Ryans was a linebacker with the Texans and Eagles for 10 seasons before joining the 49ers as a defensive quality control coach in 2017. He spent three seasons coaching San Francisco’s inside linebackers and was promoted to defensive coordinator this season after Robert Saleh left to take over as coach of the Jets.
While it might seem like a slam dunk the Vikings would hire an offensive-minded coach, they also want a dynamic leader and age doesn’t appear to be a huge concern. Just as it wasn’t with Adofo-Mensah.
“We’ve had some initial discussions,” Adofo-Mensah said of the coaching search. “We know what we want to find. We want leadership. We want someone who we know is going to rally the collective over the individual. We want somebody who’s got vision, who can communicate, who’s got a solid football foundation. … So that’s been our focus in these last few days. Really honing in on what we want. In terms of specific names, we are going to meet after I get done with you great people and we’ll talk about that further.”
Adofo-Mensah’s use of the words “great people” to describe the media, meant he had done something in his first press conference that Spielman didn’t do in 16 years and Zimmer didn’t do in eight. It signified that good manners will be of the utmost importance around the kinder, gentler and more collaborative Vikings. That’s a good start, but if wins don’t follow, Adofo-Mensah and his coaching hire will find a frustrated fan base doesn’t concern itself with manners on game day.