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Rick Dennison out as Vikings coordinator after refusing COVID-19 vaccine, per report

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To say COVID-19 vaccinations is a hot topic in the NFL is a gross understatement. On one hand, you have Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley publicly denouncing vaccinations, and on the other, you have the league issuing a damning memo promising game forfeiture and stiff financial penalties (and more) if a contest can’t be played due to a breakout stemming from unvaccinated players — followed by All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins questioning his future in the NFL because of it. And now, in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Vikings have set a massive precedent of their own.

The Vikings have reportedly parted ways with Rick Dennison, per Courtney Cronin of ESPN, the club’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator. In his place, Minnesota will promote assistant O-line coach Phil Rauscher and hire Auburn special teams analyst Ben Steele as an assistant.

This marks the first instance of a team divorcing a coach due to the COVID-19 vaccine, but potentially not the last. For while several teams have already seen their entire coaching staff get vaccinated — e.g., the Dallas Cowboys — it’s unknown how many organizations are still below 100 precent in that regard, and unlike vaccinations by players being voluntary (argue that supposition however you choose), that’s not the case with front office and coaching staff. Earlier this summer, the NFL made it clear all Tier 1 staff must either be vaccinated or provide a religious or medical reason for abstaining.

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Absent those pardons, the staff member would be removed from Tier 1 status and prohibited from having direct interactions with players including, but not limited to, being in meeting rooms and on the sidelines. Of course, that would make it virtually impossible for someone like Dennison to do his job and, as such, he no longer has one in Minnesota. 

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The 63-year-old joined the Vikings in 2019 in his current role and has three Super Bowl wins under his belt prior to arriving — a longtime assistant of the Denver Broncos who also spent time with the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Dennison carries a wealth of coaching experience, but unless he gets vaccinated, he won’t be an option for any NFL team as a Tier 1 individual.

As for the Vikings, they’ll hit reset going into training camp and hope Rauscher can simply step up and help newly-installed offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak get things ironed out. Dennison is a favorite and longtime friend of Kubiak from their time spent together in Denver, but Rauscher is entering his seventh season as an NFL assistant — having joined the Vikings in 2020 to assist Dennison. And Kubiak does have familiarity with Steele, with Steels having played at tight end for end at one point in Houston.

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The Vikings are looking to shock the world this season on the field but, first, they’ve achieved that goal off of it.


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