Report says Rick Dennison out as assistant after declining COVID vaccine but Vikings say discussions ongoing

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Jul. 23—ESPN reported Friday that Rick Dennison was out as a Vikings assistant after declining to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, but the Vikings said in a statement that discussions with Dennison are ongoing.

Dennison, 63, has been the team's offensive line coach/run game coordinator the past two seasons. ESPN reported that he would be replaced by assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher and that Ben Steele has been hired away from Auburn to take Rauscher's spot.

Later on Friday, the Vikings released a statement that said, in part, "The Vikings continue to hold discussions with offensive line coach Rick Dennison regarding the NFL (and NFL Players Association) COVID-19 protocols for training camp and preseason games."

The Vikings will start training camp on Wednesday and the first preseason game is on Aug. 14.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine this season is required for all Tier 1 staff, including coaches, executives, equipment personnel and scouts. In a memo sent out by the NFL earlier this summer, the NFL said that any unvaccinated Tier 1 staff member would need to provide a valid religious or medical reason for not receiving the vaccine. Those who are not in Tier 1 on an NFL team cannot be on the field and in meeting rooms or have direct contact with players.

"At this time, Coach Dennison does not have an exemption to the vaccination requirements of those protocols," the Vikings said in their statement. "We will adhere to the requirements of the protocols and of applicable law."

After the Vikings released their statement, Peter Schaffer, Dennison's agent, sent a text to the Pioneer Press.

"Rick is 100 percent 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," Schaffer wrote.

Dennison was a linebacker for the Denver Broncos from 1982-90 and has been an NFL assistant for the past 26 years. That includes 10 seasons as an offensive coordinator with the Broncos, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills.

With Dennison as the run game coordinator, the Vikings have had rushing seasons by Dalvin Cook of 1,135 yards in 2019 and 1,557 yards in 2020. Following ESPN's report, Vikings backup running back Alexander Mattison tweeted support for Dennison.

"Smh (shaking my head), they act as if we didn't successfully play a whole season last year," Mattison wrote, referring to the NFL playing last season during the coronavirus pandemic "Don't make no sense. I'm rocking with you 100 percent, coach."

Smh, they act as if we didn't successfully play a whole season last year. Don't make no sense. I'm rockin wit you 100% coach

— Alexander Mattison (@AlexMattison22) July 23, 2021

Rauscher joined the Vikings last year. Steele, an NFL tight end from 2001-07, was an NFL assistant from 2013-20 before recently taking the job as Auburn's special-teams analyst. He was with the Atlanta Falcons the past two seasons, including last year as tight ends coach.

Rauscher could become the sixth man to serve as offensive line coach in head coach Mike Zimmer's eight seasons with the Vikings. Jeff Davidson was with Minnesota from 2011-15, the last two seasons spent under Zimmer. Tony Sparano had the job in 2016 and 2017 before he died in July 2018. And there were co-offensive line coaches in 2018 in Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko before Dennison took over.

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