When Jim Delany announced in March that he would end his tenure as Big Ten commissioner when his contract expires next summer, many people believed that his replacement would be someone who already has experience within the conference, such as Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips.
Instead, the Big Ten went outside the conference to find Kevin Warren, the chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings, who was introduced as the league’s sixth commissioner on Tuesday.
Warren’s selection came as a surprise, as he was not known to be a candidate for the job until reports that he would replace Delany surfaced Monday night, but he comes to the Big Ten with about three decades of professional experience in various roles within the sports and legal industries and with high regards from his peers.
Let’s get to know the Big Ten’s new commissioner by taking a closer look at his biography, qualifications and background.
When Warren was promoted to chief operating officer of the Vikings on Feb. 12, 2015, he became the first African-American COO in NFL history and the highest-ranking African-American executive working on the business side of an NFL organization.
Now, Warren is set to become the first African-American commissioner of a Power 5 collegiate conference. He follows Keith Gill, who was named the new commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference in March, to become the second black commissioner of any Football Bowl Subdivision conference.
Kevin Warren comes from a family that's experienced a lot of firsts.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) June 4, 2019
Officially the first black P5 commissioner, does he consider himself a pioneer? pic.twitter.com/EsMAf6YXRs
In his role as the Vikings’ COO, Warren has overseen all business aspects of the Vikings as well as their facilities, including U.S. Bank Stadium. He has also served on the NFL Committee on Workplace Diversity, which is committed to enhancing and promoting diversity at every level of the NFL, since 2013.
Warren has been with the Vikings since 2005, when he was hired by new Vikings owner Zygi Wilf as executive vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer. Warren joined the Vikings after representing the Wilf family in its bid to purchase the team while working for the international law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Warren previously worked for the Detroit Lions as senior vice president of business operations and general counsel (2001-03) and the St. Louis Rams as vice president of player programs/football legal counsel (1997-2000) and vice president of football administration (2000-01).
Warren earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the Notre Dame Law School in 1990, and began his legal career working at Bond, Schoeneck & King, a law firm in Overland Park, Kansas. While there, Warren worked alongside Mike Slive – who went on to become the commissioner of the SEC – and prominent attorney Mike Glazier to represent universities that were charged with NCAA violations.
In 1992, Warren started his own sports and entertainment agency, Kevin Warren & Associates, where he represented multiple NFL players including Chris Zorich – who also went on to graduate from the Notre Dame Law School – and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields.
Even since moving into NFL front-office work, Warren has continued to work in the legal profession. He is currently an attorney of counsel for the international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, and is licensed to practice law in Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington, D.C.
When Warren was just 11 years old, he was hit by a car while riding his bike and suffered severe injuries, including a broken femur, that forced him into a body cast for six months. At the time, doctors told Warren that it was uncertain whether he would be able to walk or play sports again.
Warren overcame those injuries, though, to become a star basketball player. He began his collegiate career at Penn, where he was a member of an Ivy League championship team for the 1981-82 season, before transferring to Grand Canyon University, where he averaged 20 points per game – the fourth-best career scoring average in school history – for his two-year career. He was inducted into GCU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
Kevin Warren was hit by a car as an 11-year-old, and the doctor said his outlook was not good.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) June 4, 2019
Warren asked the doctor what would help him. The doctor's answer? Swim.
Warren paid for a pool in his backyard, practically lived in it, and uses the experience as motivation. pic.twitter.com/CACNY90J59
A Family of Athletes
Warren’s father, Morrison Warren Sr., played professional football for the All-American Football Conference’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 – before the league merged with the NFL – and went on to become the first African-American president of a major bowl game when he became president of the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors in 1982. Warren Sr. was also named by azcentral.com in 2013 as one of the best 50 football players ever at Arizona State University, where Kevin Warren earned his master’s degree in business administration.
Kevin Warren’s older brother, Morrison Warren Jr., played football at Stanford in the 1960s, becoming the Cardinal’s first recruited black football player.
Warren’s son, Powers Warren, is currently a tight end at Mississippi State.
Kevin Warren's son, Powers (@PowersWarren88), couldn't make today's presser.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) June 4, 2019
He's a TE for @HailStateFB, and has a test and workouts to tackle.
"This is what student-athletes and what college athletics is about." pic.twitter.com/wYEpZiOfLq
Big Ten Connections
While Warren has never worked within the Big Ten and did not attend a Big Ten school, he does have a couple connections to schools within the conference.
Warren was on the University of Minnesota’s search committee that led to the hiring of athletic director Mark Coyle in 2016 after former Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague resigned following reports of sexual harassment.
Warren also already has a relationship with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith that dates back to Smith’s tenure at Arizona State, where he was athletic director from 2000-05 before being hired to the same position in Columbus. Smith praised the impending hire of Warren in a tweet on Tuesday morning.
If confirmed - Great hire, know him from my ASU days. Great values, talented & gifted. Congrats B1G Presidents!https://t.co/VHeeQNoDj9?— gene smith (@OSU_AD) June 4, 2019
Warren has also served on the board of directors for the University of Minnesota Medical Foundation and its Medicine and Health Board of Overseers.