The Vikings have parted ways with offensive line coach and run game coordinator Rick Dennison after he refused to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to ESPN's Courtney Cronin. They're promoting assistant OL coach Phil Rauscher to fill his shoes and have hired Ben Steele to take Rauscher's job.
Dennison is believed to be the first NFL position coach to lose his job due to an unwillingness to get vaccinated. Per a league policy, all Tier 1 staff members — which includes coaches — are required to get the vaccine unless they provide a "valid religious or medical reason" not to do so. Without being vaccinated, coaches would be unable to directly interact with players on the practice field and elsewhere in the team facility. Players are not mandated to get a vaccine, but those who aren't vaccinated will have significant restrictions and will be putting their team at risk.
Update: the Vikings have released the following statement:
"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."
The 63-year-old Dennison played for the Broncos in the 1980s and has been an assistant coach in the NFL for the last 27 seasons. A longtime partner of Gary Kubiak, he was previously the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, Texans, and Bills. Dennison and Kubiak were both hired by the Vikings prior to the 2019 season. The elder Kubiak retired this year, but his son Klint Kubiak is the Vikings' new offensive coordinator.
This is shocking news. Dennison, although he had taken some criticism for the underperformance of the Vikings' offensive line in the past two seasons, was the architect of a very strong running game led by Dalvin Cook and an effective zone-blocking scheme. He was one of the veteran coaches who was expected to help the younger Kubiak in his first stint as an OC this year.
Now he's gone and may not get another job in the NFL unless he changes his mind on the vaccine. It'll be interesting to see if this happens to more coaches or front office personnel before this season starts.
Update: Here's another one.
Rauscher, the Vikings' new offensive line coach, has six seasons of NFL coaching experience and is entering his second year with Minnesota. He was Washington's assistant OL coach under the legendary Bill Callahan in 2018 and '19.
Steele had been on NFL coaching staffs since 2013 before accepting a job as a special teams analyst for Auburn this offseason.
Vikings training camp begins next week.
Update: Vikings running back Alexander Mattison voiced displeasure with this move and support for Dennison in a tweet.
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