Rick Dennison out as Minnesota Vikings assistant after refusing COVID-19 vaccine, sources say

A Minnesota Vikings assistant coach is out of his job after he reportedly refused a shot because he objects to the CDC-recommended vaccine for flu prevention. The Vikings on Tuesday morning confirmed assistant coach and tight ends coach Rick Dennison was placed on leave after he said he wouldn’t get the vaccine. Vikings COO Kevin Warren said Dennison was on leave for “personal reasons.” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer has a history of opposing vaccines for NFL players, and helped start the “Just Say No” campaign during his playing career with Cincinnati.

Former Minnesota Vikings assistant coach Rick Dennison has been fired less than 24 hours after he reportedly refused a vaccination for the human papillomavirus, commonly referred to as HPV, according to multiple sources.

The Minnesota Vikings will not retain Rick Dennison as the team’s assistant offensive line coach, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “I would imagine that it will be a short term deal,” a source told Schefter. The Vikings’ interest in Dennison going forward is unclear, though ESPN reported Dennison did not have a contract beyond the upcoming season. Dennison has declined to comply with the NFL’s policy requiring all players to receive the vaccine for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, sources told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Rick Dennison has been fired as a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach after refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination, according to ESPN.

Dennison has spent the previous two seasons as the Vikings’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator. The Vikings stated in a statement Friday that they were still in talks with Dennison regarding the league’s COVID-19 procedures.

According to league sources, another coach in the league, New England Patriots co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich, will not be with his club in 2021 due to a decision linked to the COVID-19 vaccination and NFL rules.

All Tier 1 employees, including coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers, and scouts, must get the vaccination. Players are not obliged to get the COVID-19 vaccination, but they will be subjected to rigorous procedures throughout training camp and during the season, which vaccinated players will be able to avoid.

Any unvaccinated Tier 1 staff member must give a legitimate religious or medical reason for not getting the vaccination, according to a letter issued by the NFL last summer. Coaches who lose their Tier 1 status are unable to be on the field, in conference rooms, or have direct contact with players.

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Dennison does not have a vaccine exemption, according to the Vikings’ statement.

According to ESPN, Phil Rauscher has been elevated from assistant offensive line coach to replace Dennison’s job. Ben Steele, who had just been hired by Auburn as a special teams consultant, was also hired by the Vikings to replace the role Rauscher had held since 2019.

Dennison’s departure comes at a critical moment for the Vikings’ offense, which will be led by Klint Kubiak, who is in his first season as offensive coordinator. During the 2020 season, Kubiak, 34, was promoted to take over for his father, Gary, in Minnesota.

Dennison, who has 27 years of NFL coaching experience, was seen as a key component in bridging the gap for the younger Kubiak, given his expertise calling run plays and understanding of the Vikings’ system since the start of the 2019 season.

The Vikings were one of the league’s prominent running teams in 2020 behind Dalvin Cook, who became the first Minnesota player to rush for at least 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in a season. Cook was responsible for 30.5% of the Vikings’ scrimmage yards, the second-highest rate in the NFL behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (33.8), according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

Popovich spent the spring in New England coaching the Patriots, and his on-field presence was notable, in part because he was one of the only staff members to wear a mask during practice.

Popovich, who is a distant cousin of veteran San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich but has never met him, was scheduled to begin his eighth season with the Patriots in September. In 2020, he split offensive line responsibilities with Carmen Bricillo, a veteran former Youngstown State offensive line coach who is now slated to take on a more prominent position.

Popovich’s departure from the Patriots in 2021 was originally reported by the Boston Globe.

Dennison, 63, spent more than three decades with Gary Kubiak in Denver (1995-2009, 2015-16), Houston (2010-13), and Baltimore (2014). Dennison was the offensive line coach/run game coordinator for the New York Jets in 2018 before joining the Vikings in 2019.

After joining the Vikings in 2020, Rauscher is in his eighth season as a head coach in the NFL. He worked with Dennison on the Broncos’ coaching staff in 2015 and 2016, and in 2019 he was the offensive line coach for the Washington Redskins.

From 2001 through 2007, Steele was a tight end on various NFL teams, notably in Houston under Gary Kubiak. He started his NFL career in 2013 as an offensive quality control coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he remained until 2016. Steele subsequently became the Buccaneers’ tight ends coach before joining the Atlanta Falcons as an offensive assistant in 2019 and tight ends coach in 2020. Auburn hired him earlier this year.

On Wednesday, the Vikings will conduct their first training camp session.

Mike Reiss of ESPN contributed to this story.

Rick Dennison has been dismissed as the senior offensive assistant with the Minnesota Vikings, according to sources close to the team. Dennison, in a previous job with the Philadelphia Eagles, was a key player in the Chip Kelly/Sam Bradford/DeSean Jackson/Jeremy Maclin/Jason Avant 2013 Eagles offense. Dennison was a member of the interview committee that recommended two coaches and a staff to head coach Mike Zimmer on Thursday. Dennison was the only holdover from the Eagles staff.. Read more about rick dennison wife cancer and let us know what you think.

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