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Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf on their new era, visiting Ukraine, and sticking with Cousins

There is no off season in the NFL, or so the saying goes. And besides making multiple staffing decisions at all levels, Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf has had plenty to do.

Wilf, president of the Jewish Federations of North America, spent a week on the Ukraine-Poland border earlier this year after the Russian invasion, distributing aid to refugees.

“I was in a town called Medyka, right on the border between Poland and Ukraine,” he tells Sportsmail. “I met refugees and saw the incredible trauma going on. We tried to evaluate and better understand their needs so that we can do the fundraising and advocate for it to happen.

Mark Wilf (right) has opened up to the Minnesota Vikings ahead of the 2022 season

Mark Wilf (right) has opened up to the Minnesota Vikings ahead of the 2022 season

The Vikings players are preparing for the upcoming season during the low season in May

The Vikings players are preparing for the upcoming season during the low season in May

“It was a powerful experience.

‘I know that our organization is working 24/7. There are incredible professionals and volunteers from all organizations from all countries of the world.

“It’s personal to me too, you know. Myself and my brother (Zygi, co-owner of Vikings) and my cousin, our parents were Holocaust survivors. A little over 80 years ago they were refugees in Poland and there was no one for them. We are in a privileged situation and we have the ability to give back. And if we can, we will. That’s kind of the spirit in which that journey was made.

“We are very lucky with the platforms we are a part of in professional sport. But there is a lot happening in the world that we have to take into account and do everything possible to alleviate the suffering.’

Wilf adds that he may return to the region after next season. And now that the sport is up and running again, he’s excited about the culture change in Minnesota after the Vikings went 8-9 and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Wilf (left) recently visited the border between Poland and Ukraine to aid in the war effort

Wilf (left) recently visited the border between Poland and Ukraine to aid in the war effort

Kevin O'Connell, 37, has come in as head coach, for his first attempt at an HC role in the NFL

Kevin O’Connell, 37, has come in as head coach, for his first attempt at an HC role in the NFL

Gone are Mike Zimmer, the head coach who spent eight seasons in Minnesota, and general manager Rick Spielman, who has been in the front office since 2006.

In their place are Kevin O’Connell, a freshman head coach fresh off the back of a Super Bowl win as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, and Kwesi Adofoh-Mensah, former VP Football Operations for the Cleveland Browns.

It marks a new, younger era in Minnesota, as Wilf described.

“We are very, very excited to have Kevin and Kwesi come in,” he said. “They provide strong leadership, they are innovators, great communicators, great leaders and we really see that on the field.

“We are well into the final phase of our offseason program and the way everyone is working together, there is a good energy for the coming season.”

In his first draft, Adofo-Mensah traded six times, one class up, while catering to an all-too-familiar need. Their first two choices were defensive backs – safety Lewis Cine as the No. 32 overall pick and cornerback Andrew Booth Jnr 10 picks later in the second round. It had echoes of the Zimmer-Spielman era, picking out 16 DBs during their eight designs together.

The Vikings Hold On To Their Divisive Quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​For The New Season

The Vikings Hold On To Their Divisive Quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​For The New Season

“We think we’ve done a great job not only in design, but also in free agency, with an emphasis on positive culture and extreme talent,” Wilf said. ‘We think we have made great strides.

“The additions we’ve made in free agency – Za’Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips, Jordan Hicks – contribute to Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth in the design. On the defensive side we have a lot of players, but they fit the building well. They worked well with everyone else.

“And of course we have a new arrangement, new technical staff. So there’s a lot of good new energy going on and I think our fans – including those in the UK – should be really excited about what they’re going to see this season.”

While much has changed in Minnesota, the front office has kept its faith in Kirk Cousins. The divisive quarterback entered the final year of his contract but signed a one-year extension worth a fully guaranteed $35 million.

O’Connell was an integral part of Cousins ​​staying in Minnesota, as Wilf noted, “Kevin is familiar with Kirk and we now have more parts on the team to support not just Kirk but every aspect of the team. We feel really, really strongly about it. There’s a lot of work ahead and a lot of practice, but it’s starting to gel.’

The Vikings return to England for the third time this season, playing against the New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 2.

Wilf (right) standing with HC O'Connell (second from right) and Managing Director Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

Wilf (right) standing with HC O’Connell (second from right) and Managing Director Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

With two previous victories in London under his belt – against Pittsburgh in 2013 and Cleveland in 2017 – Wilf is excited about the journey.

‘It will not be easy, we are playing against New Orleans, a top team, but we are looking forward to a great game. Most importantly, we are back in London. We have great fan support and we are happy to do our part to help the game of American football grow on a global scale. It’s our first visit to Tottenham. We were at Wembley and then Twickenham. So it’s our third location for our third visit.’

Perhaps Wilf, who owns Orlando City Soccer Club in MLS and the NWSL’s Orlando Pride, will make it to a Premier League this weekend.

“We’re in the football business in Orlando with the men and the women, so yes, we follow EPL closely. We have relationships and friendships with some clubs and it’s the best football in the world.”

And with Americans Stan Kroenke, the Glazer family, Todd Boehly and Fenway Sports Group all owning Premier League clubs as well as US franchises, would Wilf expand his reach across the Atlantic?

“Not in the near future now – we have our hands full,” he laughs. “But we’re keeping a close eye on what’s happening there, so who knows? Who knows!’

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