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EAGAN, Minn. (1:48)
Rick Dennison has been fired as a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach after refusing to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine, according to ESPN.
Dennison, who spent the previous two seasons as the Vikings’ offensive line coach/run game coordinator, is believed to be the first NFL position coach to leave his organization after refusing to obtain a vaccine.
All Tier 1 employees, including coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers, and scouts, must receive the vaccine.
Players are not forced to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination, but they will be subjected to tight measures during training camp and during the season, which those who have been vaccinated will be able to avoid.
Any unvaccinated Tier 1 staff member must demonstrate a valid religious or medical reason for not obtaining the vaccine, according to a document released by the NFL earlier this summer.
Coaches who lose their Tier 1 designation are barred from being on the field, in conference rooms, or having direct dealings with players.
According to ESPN, Phil Rauscher has been promoted from assistant offensive line coach to fill Dennison’s role.
Ben Steele, who had recently been hired by Auburn as a special-teams analyst, was also hired by the Vikings to fill the position Rauscher had held since 2019.
Dennison’s retirement comes at a critical moment for the Vikings offense, which will be led by Klint Kubiak, who was promoted this offseason to take over for his father, Gary, as offensive coordinator for the 2020 season.
Dennison, who has 27 years of NFL coaching expertise, was seen as a key component in bridging the gap for the younger Kubiak, given his significant experience calling run plays and familiarity of the Vikings’ scheme since the start of the 2019 season.
In 2020, the Vikings were one of the league’s most prolific running teams, led by Dalvin Cook, who became the first player in Minnesota history to dash for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in a single season.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cook accounted for 30.5% of the Vikings’ scrimmage yards in 2020, which was second in the NFL behind Derrick Henry (33.8).
Dennison worked with Gary Kubiak in Denver (1995-2009, 2015-16), Houston (2010-13), and Baltimore (2014) for more than three decades.
Dennison was the offensive line coach/run game coordinator for the New York Jets for the 2018 season 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 until 2007, Steele was a tight end on numerous NFL rosters, including in Houston under Gary Kubiak.
He began his NFL career in 2013 as an offensive quality control coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he remained until 2016.
Steele eventually 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 begin their first training camp session.