The Big Ten Conference introduced Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren as its sixth commissioner at a news conference in Chicago on Tuesday.

Warren, 55, will succeed the retiring Jim Delany, who has served as commissioner since 1989 and overseen the league’s expansion to 14 teams and major growth in its revenue. Delany, 71, will step down on Jan. 1. Warren will start at the Big Ten on Sept. 16 and work with Delany during a transitional period.

“I am truly honored and humbled,” Warren said. “I feel incredibly blessed.”

He said he hopes to build on Delany’s legacy.

“When you have an iconic leader like Jim Delany,” Warren said, “the worst thing you can do is try to tear down what he and his staff have done.”

Warren will become the first African-American commissioner of a power five conference.

"It is definitely not lost on me, the history associated with this,” Warren said.

He said he has pictures of Curt Flood (who fought a lonely battle against baseball's reserve clause), Jackie Robinson and the 1966 Texas Western NCAA championship men’s basketball team on his desk. He said he is committed to promoting diversity and opportunity.

“We were all impressed with Kevin's broad experience, his extraordinary level of commitment and his vision for our collective future,” Ohio State president Michael V. Drake said in the Big Ten’s press release announcing the Warren hire. “Kevin is the right person at the right time to lead us forward.”

Warren does not have direct ties to the Big Ten. He has been with the Vikings for 15 years and in the NFL for 21. He has been the Vikings’ COO since 2015 and was critical in all aspects of the building of the U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016.

Warren was born in Phoenix as the youngest of seven children and grew up in Tempe, Arizona. He described himself as a happy-go-lucky 11-year-old until he was struck by a car and was almost killed. Warren was put in traction and then a body cast.

Doctors questioned whether he would walk again and told him that playing sports would be a longshot. Before being released from the hospital, he asked the doctor what would give him the best chance for a recovery. The doctor recommended swimming. Warren’s parents told him they couldn’t afford a pool, but he used $11,000 of his $30,000 settlement from his accident to build one.

Six years later, Warren was a freshman basketball player at the University of Pennsylvania. He transferred after one year to Grand Canyon University, where he became an Academic All-American.

Warren earned his MBA from Arizona State and graduated from Notre Dame Law School. He then worked at a law firm with future Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive.

His front-office NFL career started with the Detroit Lions. He was with the St. Louis Rams for four seasons before joining the Vikings.

Warren and his wife, Greta, have a daughter and a son. His son is a football player at Mississippi State.

Warren’s father, the late Dr. Morrison Warren, played football for the 1948 Brooklyn Dodgers in the All-American Football Conference, which later merged with the NFL. He choked up when speaking of his parents.

"They said days like today will come,” he said. “They may not come when you're ready. They may not come when you want them to come, but they will come when the time is right.”

 

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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