Press Conference

Browns VP of Football Ops Kwesi Adofo-Mensah: 'My whole life I have been passionate about decision-making under uncertainty'

On who would win Jeopardy contests at the Browns, given the number of people from Ivy League and prestigious academic schools:

"I have never wanted to bet against myself so I might have to go with me (laughter). Like you said, there are incredibly talented, smart people [here]. I think it would be interesting. It might depend on the category. If we got a 90s hip hop or basketball [category], I think I am taking it."

On how proud he is to be part of such a diverse front office in Cleveland and if he feels like the league is making the necessary strides to improve opportunities and positions for minority candidates:

"As a minority, you kind of live in two worlds where you live in this world where you know that your expectation is lower based on the color of your skin but you also live in this world where I have agency in what is going to happen in my life. I am one of those people that is always focused on my agency and what I can do. Wherever I have been and the things I have accomplished, I have never really stopped to kind of smell the roses in a sense. I have typically missed those points in my life, but when I got hired for this job, I received a bunch of messages on LinkedIn. A lot of them were from awesome Cleveland fans welcoming me to Cleveland, but some of them were from black men who were just saying that it inspired them to see somebody like me in a position like this. That honestly that was super meaningful to me and helped me kind of see that for what it was. I do not typically always appreciate that in the moment and how impactful that can be, but those messages on LinkedIn definitely showed me that. As far as the league goes, I know the league is trying their best. It is a complex problem. It is not necessarily always the result of bad intentions. It is just sometimes these things are self-fulfilling feedbacks that continue over time, and it really is hard to break the cycle. Honestly, it is a cycle that happens throughout the rest of society. The NFL is no different than corporate America or Silicon Valley, where I just came from. I know that the NFL is trying, and I am going to be part of that effort to try and get my two cents of input. Ultimately, you just want to give everybody the opportunity to be great and have their merits be what carries them. That is all everybody has ever asked."

On the NFL announcing the virtual offseason program will continue through June and that players will not return until training camp, as well as the Browns' plans for the rest of the virtual offseason program:

"Those discussions are continuous right now with (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) and AB (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry). I think that from what I have seen since I have been here and I have only been here a month, they have established a really good rhythm, they like what they are doing and there is really positive momentum. I think they want to keep it [going], but they also want to be cognitive of the fact that guys need time off to recharge and coaches need time off to recharge. Those are factors that everybody is going to consider when it comes down to making this decision. In terms of not being back in the building until training camp, if you really asked Kevin, I am guessing he would have thought that was going to be the case regardless. I do not know that it is a big surprise to most people that we are not going to see them until training camp. I do not want to speak for him, but I would guess that is where he was coming from on that."

On transitioning from a commodities trader to the NFL:

"I get asked that question a lot. I would say that my whole life, and not just my professional life, I have been really passionate about decision making under uncertainty. I think Wall Street and my commodity trading background is a reflection of that. I think my graduate school in economics is a reflection that. I think playing basketball is a reflection of that. What draws people to sports from an academic environment is that you get a chance to apply some of these academic principles and the things that happen kind of subconsciously on the court or on the field. In a sense, some people see that as very different, but I do not see it as very different in my ability to kind of pool information to make a bet on the direction of the market versus pooling information to making a bet on the direction of an NFL player. I think those are similar processes. Obviously, they are different skillsets and different information sources. I came into San Francisco kind of as a tabula rasa, a clean slate and just learned from those guys and learned the methodology that they use. Ultimately, you are just making decisions under uncertainty, and there are certain things that carry over across those fields."

On if he always aspired to make the transition to the NFL:

"I have been a football fan since I was three. I grew up in an area that is similar to Cleveland where people live and die on Sundays. This has always been a dream of mine to be honest. You just do not know how to break in. I would say that most people – probably in your positions, as well – you just do not know how to get into the building. When I was in graduate school, it was something I had my eyes on. I thought maybe I would be a professor and sort of consult, but I really did want to be a part of the team and actually work in the building. Ultimately, the stars aligned and I got the opportunity. Yes, it was something that I always had a passion and interest in. It was just whether or not I could break down the walls to get there."

On what experiences from the 49ers, who reached the Super Bowl, he believes he can help bring to the Browns:

"These words become cliché but an appreciation of the alignment and culture. I was asked in a lot of the interviews, 'What was the most impactful thing you did in San Francisco?' I would love to say it was saying (49ers TE) George Kittle was going to be the best tight end in the NFL – I did not. Maybe the models had him a little better than everybody else, but that is not what it was. What was the most impactful was after our 2016 front office reboot, they had me study successful organizations in sports and other companies. You really learn what it takes to make it. Look, this sport has tons of ups and downs every day. It is not going to be perfect. It is not going to be clean. You have to have people in the building who are not going to blink, know what that looks like and have a shared vision. All of that stuff sounds good when you read it, but then living that experience over these last three years – 2017 was not easy and 2018 was not easy – I saw (49ers General Manager) John (Lynch) and (49ers Head Coach) Kyle (Shanahan) never blink. Nobody else beneath them blinked. We always knew we were building toward something. Seeing that up close, I just know that is what it takes to win and I will never back down from that. Also, just a sense of realism. It takes talent to win in this league. It takes great coaching. It takes great development. It takes a lot of great things. Seeing that up close and knowing that you need an aggressive mindset to win on the margins in every aspect of football operations is an invaluable experience I will never be able to replicate. I think that is what I will bring to the Cleveland Browns."

On if he and Berry hit it off right away:

"I had heard about him obviously in league circles and was somebody I always wanted to meet. We first met on an elevator bank at the combine. I said, 'I think that is him.' I just turned to him and said, 'Hey, Andrew. I am Kwesi. I have heard great things about you. Nice to meet you.' He actually said some co-workers had talked about me so it was just a mutual wanting to meet each other. We took the elevator up and walked to our suites, but we just talked football and life for 10-15 minutes, exchanged numbers and decided it was a relationship we wanted to pursue. I did not know this was going to be the end result of it. I knew he was going to be in the position he was in. You talk to that guy for five minutes and you know where he is going to be in his life, but I did not know this was going to be the manifestation of our relationship. I am honestly so humbled and honored that he believes enough in me and the organization believes enough in me for this position. I will do everything in my power to make sure I repay that."

On where he met Berry at the combine:

"It was when you get to the dome and you are underneath the stadium coming up to the suite level. It is weird because I am not the person to reach out and talk to people I do not know, but there was just something about him that made me want to."

On if he ever had second thoughts about if football was the right path for him once he started his NFL career and if there were challenges at the beginning:

"It was not easy to start. Again, as Andrew will tell you and everybody who knows me will tell you, I do not know that there are many people who want to learn more than I do. For me, I took it as an opportunity to learn. I got to tinker, I got to innovate and I got to speak with people and see what worked and see what did not work. Those early years are hard. As you know, losing in the NFL, you take that personally as a competitor. There is only so much you can do, but I always took it as a positive. I always pointed the finger inward and said, 'OK, how can I get better? How can I improve my small piece of this?' It was rocky, but I never questioned the vision of where I was going. I am one of those people who has a profound belief in things happening for a reason and have a belief in their own abilities and their ability to work hard. No, I never questioned football or not."

On potentially being in the pipeline to become an NFL GM one day:

"I have not thought about anything next. I have been in this job for a month. You start swimming upstream very quickly here, learning what it takes to run an NFL team. I am being incredibly present and just proud and excited about where I am currently and not thinking about anything else in the future."

On his role and ability to evaluate football talent with his background in the NFL, in addition to being a former basketball player and commodity trader:

"I came up unconventionally, but I think my background was a positive because I did not have any preconceived notions or biases. When I sat in a room with great evaluators that I have been around in San Francisco, I just took everything they told me. 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. I got to be around some incredible people. I am not going to go on some epic shout-out like I did in my first quote, but there have been some incredible evaluators I have been around and I have asked them how they saw the game. It has shaped how I see the game. I have friends in the league who are talented. Again, I will pick every person's brain. You find some amazing knowledge from everywhere in this league. I would say that is where my evaluation base comes from. Second, my job is not necessarily going to be to say that this guy is a necessarily more talented player. We have other people to do that in this building. My job is going to be another person who knows enough about everybody's point of view to come together and make a good decision. That is where I see my role, and that is where I see a lot of my value. I have my perspective and I will bring that to the table, but I also have an appreciation for everybody else's perspective, not only from my time in San Francisco but also my time as a trader to be honest. There are a lot of people who win a lot of different ways, and you come to appreciate that. At the end of the day, you are just trying to make better decisions. That is kind of the basis of where I will approach this job from."

On when he met Berry at the combine:

"He had just begun in Philadelphia."

On how the unusual offseason has affected his transition to a new team and if he is in Berea now:

"Yes, I am actually live from Berea right now. The offseason, I will be honest, these times have been super unique for a lot of people, but I just have been so busy, which has been great. When other people were in quarantine, I was in San Francisco preparing for the draft. Then I had to get up to speed and learn all of these passionate, talented people that I am going to be working with and trying to learn all of the systems and processes that are in place and have been in place here for years. To be honest, I have not noticed any difference because I have been working extremely hard for many hours a day. There have been no weekends. You know the NFL schedule can be incredibly tough. This has just been another stretch of that. For me, I have not really noticed the difference. I would say my flight here was a little different than usual. Every cough takes on a little different meaning when you are in the COVID world, but other than that, my life has been pretty similar."

On people having different reactions to the word 'analytics' and his view of a successful application of data to creating an advantage on the field and in scouting:

"It is so funny, before I came into the NFL, I never heard that word and never used that word, and now that I am in the NFL, I still do not. At the end of the day, we are trying to make good decisions. These are uncertain things that we are trying to figure out so we try to be evidence based, I would more say. Look, coaches and scouts have been evidence based in the NFL for a long time. Every quality control coach is evidence based. They come up with a probability. I do not necessarily think that this is some new thing. I think we are just applying it, using different methods and also using it across football operations. Like I said earlier, we are trying to win on the margins and so we are trying extricate every little winning possible advantage we can find across football operations and use the evidence to support that. I think that Kevin, AB, (Chief Strategy Officer Paul) DePodesta and everybody in this organization are aligned in that sense. I do not think we believe it is more than it is and I do not think we believe that is less than it is. I think we just believe that it is an important facet and something that can help us, and we are going to use whatever to help us."

On Stefanski stating he wants Browns players to be engaged in the social justice arena and his confidence that the country is ready for ongoing messages and dialogue on the topic, compared to four years ago:

"I have a unique perspective having been in San Francisco at the time and also just being a black man in America. I have hope for where we are going in this country, but I can't sit here and tell you I have some expertise that will tell you how it is going to go – I don't. I don't like to say things that I am not knowledgeable enough to say, and that is kind of something that I am not too sure about what is going to happen. Again, I am hopeful. I think there are a lot of great, redeemable people, and I hope that we all come together, be positive and live in a better world than it was delivered to us."

On how his time playing basketball at Princeton shaped him and his career:

"My Princeton experience is pretty funny. I was little in high school, I grew eight inches my freshman year of college and then I walked on to the team. I was like a practice squad [player]. I was the try-hard guy who was trying to make the team. I think that dynamic, when I first got into my trading desk, my first boss asked me about my basketball career, and he literally didn't want to work with me because he thought I was 'the talented guy' and you can't coach 'the talented guy.' I was like, 'Oh, no. I was the end of the bench player, the try-hard guy.' I think that will always shape who I am. I think I live in these dual realities of the person with ability and intelligence that everybody says but also the person who has something to prove every day that he wakes up. I think that is probably the most I take from that Princeton experience. Secondly, I would say – I didn't see this at the time – if you think about the Princeton offense, it was the early rocket ball. It was threes and layups. That was the point of the Princeton offense. Seeing how that strategical thinking that (former Princeton basketball head coach) Pete Carril did worked for a long time in basketball and has been copied, I think that in hindsight is something that I certainly appreciate so much to this day."

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