Vikings' Rick Dennison reportedly out as assistant coach after refusing COVID-19 vaccine

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Rick Dennison is no longer a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach after refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, ESPN's Courtney Cronin reported Friday.

Dennison has been the team's offensive line coach and run game coordinator for the past two seasons. He is the first NFL position coach reported to have parted ways with a team over the NFL's vaccination requirements. The team's first training camp practice is Wednesday. 

The Vikings released a statement later Friday, via Matthew Coller of Purple Insider: 

"The Vikings continue to hold discussions with OL Coach Rick Dennison regarding the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 Protocols for training camp/preseason games. At this time, Coach Dennison does not have an exemption to the vaccination requirements. We will adhere to the requirements of the protocols and of applicable law."

Rick Dennison
Offensive line coach Rick Dennison is no longer with the Minnesota Vikings after refusing a COVID-19 vaccine, per a report. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

NFL vaccination protocols for coaches

Tier 1 staff, which includes coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers and scouts, are required to receive a vaccine. There is an exception made for those who provide a valid religious or medial reason for doing so, per a memo released by the league earlier this offseason. Those who aren't vaccinated lose Tier 1 status, and by virtue are not allowed on the field, in meeting rooms or having any direct interaction with players. 

Players are not required to be vaccinated, but face stricter safety protocols throughout the season if they remain unvaccinated. The league also sent a memo to teams Thursday outlining harsh consequences for teams that experience an outbreak among or caused by unvaccinated individuals. 

Vikings made coaching moves

Phil Rauscher, currently the assistant offensive line coach, will take over Dennison's position, Cronin reported. Ben Steele, recently hired by Auburn as a special teams analyst, was hired by the Vikings to fill Rauscher's vacated position, per Cronin. 

Dennison brought significant experience to the coaching staff. The 27-year veteran has made 13 playoff appearances, helped win five division titles, and been a part of three Super Bowl victories (XXXII, XXXIII and 50. 

He started with the Denver Broncos in 1995 as an offensive assistant and spent 15 seasons there, moving up to offensive coordinator for a three-year stint then again for a two-year one in 2015-16. He has been an OC with the Houston Texans ('10-13) and Buffalo Bills ('17) with stops at the Baltimore Ravens (2014) and New York Jets (2018). Most of his time has been with Gary Kubiak. 

The Vikings are a heavy run team under Dennison's leadership. In 2020, Dalvin Cook became the first Vikings player to reach 1,500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in a single season. Cook and wide receiver Justin Jefferson are expected to make the Vikings a must-see team in 2021, Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab wrote in the team's season preview

Minnesota enters 2021 with first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak at the helm. Kubiak was promoted to fill his father, Gary Kubiak's, position on the staff.

 

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