The Minnesota Vikings and assistant coach Rick Dennison have parted ways after the coach refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to ESPN on Friday. He is believed to be the first position coach to move on from his team because of the vaccine.
The move comes a day after an NFL memo revealed that teams will be forced to forfeit if there is a COVID-19 outbreak resulting from unvaccinated players. The rule was set to encourage players and coaches to receive the vaccine.
Any staff member who is labeled a “Tier 1” member is required to receive the vaccine. The league has also said that any unvaccinated Tier 1 member has to provide a religious or medical reason to not receive it. If they don’t, they would be stripped of their top-tier status and would face extreme protocols throughout the season. Only Tier 1 members can be on the field and in the meeting room with their players.
Dennison’s inability to conform with the league’s protocols come after several players spoke out on NFL’s new forfeiture rules, and he isn’t alone among coaches. Shortly after news of the Dennison-Vikings split, the Patriots parted ways with co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich in a decision reported to be related to the COVID-19 vaccine and NFL guidelines.
The Vikings don’t seem to be closing the door on Dennision, their offensive line coach/run game coordinator of the past two seasons.
“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 team said in a statement to DailyMail.com.
Dennison has coached in the NFL for 27 years and has had stints with the Denver Broncos (1995-2009, 2015-16), Houston Texans (2010-13) and Baltimore Ravens (2014). He was also the Jets’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator in 2018 under Todd Bowles.
In a corresponding move, Phil Rauscher has been promoted from assistant offensive line coach. Rauscher has coached in the NFL for seven seasons. Before joining the Vikings, he was the offensive line coach in Washington. They have also hired Ben Steele to replace Rauscher as the assistant offensive line coach.