Dennison, 63, was the Vikings’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator for the past two seasons. He is believed to be the first NFL position coach forced to leave his team after choosing not to receive a vaccine.
His ousting comes following the announcement of harsh punishments handed down by the league for the upcoming season if there is an outbreak — including the forfeiting of games, leaving players without pay.
Update 3:18 p.m.: The Vikings released this statement on Dennison’s status with the team: The Vikings continue to hold discussions with Offensive Line Coach Rick Dennison regarding the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 Protocols for training camp and preseason games. At this time, Coach Dennison does not have an exemption to the vaccination requirements of those protocols. We will adhere to the requirements of the protocols and of applicable law.
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Why Dennison Was Ousted
The vaccine is required for all Tier 1 staff — defined as coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers and scouts, per NFL guidelines. Players are not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but will face strict protocols during training camp and throughout the season that vaccinated players will not be subject to.
If Dennison would have remained in his position unvaccinated, he would have lost Tier 1 status and could not be on the field, in meeting rooms, or have any direct contact with players.
Minnesota has shaken up its coaching ranks even more following the retirement of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Kubiak’s son, Klint, 34, was promoted to his first gig as offensive coordinator. Dennison was expected to bridge that gap with his 27 years of NFL coaching experience, which included nearly a three-decade partnership with Kubiak.
Assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher was promoted to fill Dennison’s position, per Cronin. He worked with Dennison from 2015-16 in Denver before serving as the Washington Football Team’s offensive line coach in 2019.
The Vikings also hired Ben Steele, who had recently been hired by Auburn, to fill the Rauscher’s position three days before rookies are expected to show up for training camp.
While the Vikings’ statement leaves questions in the air, they’ve already hired staff to replace Dennison, per Cronin. Dennison or the NFL will have to shift their stance for any further developments.
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Mike Zimmer Makes Case for Vaccine
Earlier this offseason, coach Mike Zimmer broke his silence on getting vaccinated in anticipation of the upcoming season.
Here’s his take from a June press conference, per Cronin:
It’s not only the safety part of being vaccinated, but as far as being a part of a football team.
For me, for instance, I don’t have to wear a mask. We had a staff meeting the other day and everybody is in the same room. We can sit there and talk as opposed to doing this like we’re doing here. I know you guys know, I don’t like doing all of the media stuff, but I would much rather be sitting in a room talking to you then up at this camera and looking down at you.
They [unvaccinated players] are going to be wearing masks, they’re going to have to social distance, they’ll have daily testing.They won’t go home for bye week and have to come back here and test every day. When we go on the road, they won’t be able to go out to dinner with anybody. They’ll have to travel on buses differently and travel on planes differently, so a lot of meetings will be virtual like we have here.