Vikings, assistant Rick Dennison ‘in discussions’ over refusal to vaccinate

MINNEAPOLIS — Officials with the Minnesota Vikings said Friday they are “in discussions” with offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who has refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

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The team released a statement in response to an ESPN report that said Dennison, 63, was off the staff. Dennison was still on the team as of Friday evening, the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis reported.

ESPN, citing unnamed sources, said Dennison was off the team and was replaced by assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher. Ben Steele, recently hired by Auburn University as a special teams analyst, was hired to take Rauscher’s position, according to the ESPN report.

“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,” the Vikings said in a statement. “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.”

Vaccination is required for all NFL front office members, coaches, scouts and equipment managers who interact directly with players, according to the Star-Tribune. Any member of the organization without a religious or medical exemption loses Tier 1 status in the NFL’s protocols, the newspaper reported. That would bar those members from the field and team meeting rooms.

Dennison does not have that exemption, the team said.

In a text message, Dennison’s agent, Peter Schaffer, told the Star-Tribune that “Rick is 100% committed to and invested in being the best football coach he can be for the Vikings with the singular focus of winning the Super Bowl this year.”

Running back Alexander Mattison supported Dennison on social media.

“They act as if we didn’t successfully play a whole season last year,” Mattison tweeted. “Don’t make no sense. I’m rockin wit’ you 100% coach.”

Dennison, who has coached in the NFL for 27 years, joined the Vikings in 2019, ESPN reported. He was the offensive line coach/run game coordinator for the New York Jets in 2018, according to the network.

Dennison played for the Denver Broncos from 1982 to 1990. He was previously the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills, Sports Illustrated reported.

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