Welcome to Minneapolis Moneyball
The terminations of Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman were the commencement of a new Minnesota Vikings era, two men leaving the organization after a combined 24 years of service.
Now, the new wave is crystalizing in an era of quantitative change, evidenced on Wednesday by the hire of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as general manager. He’s an executive from the Cleveland Browns front office, prioritizing sports analytics foremost in his operations.
Welcome to Minneapolis Moneyball.
Zimmer was criticized for on-the-field conservatism, brandishing a style of Vikings football that embraced hardnosed defense while scoring just enough points on offense to finish the job. The Adofo-Mensah approach, in theory, is the anthesis of the Zimmerian philosophy. Moneyball in football is known for analytics-based scouting and drafting, typically embracing aggression in games such as 4th-Down risk-taking. While Zimmer indeed championed “going for it” on 4th Down in his final three seasons, it took the ex-Vikings coach a long time to get on board with the modern way of doing things.
With Adofo-Mensah – and whoever he hires as the next head coach – risk-taking and aggression will become the norm, unless Adofo-Mensah radically changes his personality. That is unlikely.
Adofo-Mensah is Stanford and Princeton-educated, holding an Economics background. His rise within the San Francisco 49ers organization from 2013 to 2019 and the Cleveland Browns front office in 2021 and 2022 is considered meteoric, accumulating several endorsements from keynote personalities along the way.
The new Vikings boss was theorized as a man who would get a shot “sooner or later.” The Vikings foundational shift to youth and analytics nominated them as the franchise doing the sooner. The pendulum of Zimmer to Kwesi swung – and did so mightily.
A lot of the same players will be around in September 2022 – Vikings ownership opined they’re not interested in a rebuild – but the feel of football won’t be the same – and won’t be Zimmerian.
Zimmer rescued a franchise in 2013 down on its luck, subscribing to loathsome defense under Leslie Frazier. Zimmer fixed it, culminating in an NFC Championship appearance in 2017.
But that was his magnum opus. Minnesota’s defense died at the beginning of the 2020 season, losing Danielle Hunter to injury and several notable veteran defenders to free agency.
On average, the Vikings reach an NFC Championship every six seasons. If the team follows suit, the next one should occur around 2022 or 2023. And Adofo-Mensah and his head coach will be asked to do something Zimmer, Frazier, Childress, Dennis Green, and Jerry Burns could not do – return to the team to a Super Bowl.
The next domino in this cycle of change is the head coach hire. That should happen within a week or two. Expect Nathaniel Hackett (Packers), Demeco Ryans (49ers), Kevin O’Connell (Rams), and Raheem Morris (Rams) to become new frontrunners due to proverbial ties to Adofo-Mensah.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).
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