Rick Dennison Out As Vikings Offensive Line Coach After Refusing COVID Vaccine

The fallout following the NFL’s ruling on COIVD Vaccines has begun.

Yesterday, the league announced that teams will be forced to forfeit games if unvaccinated players or coaches cause a outbreak that results in a game not being able to be rescheduled.

24 hours later, an Rick Dennison has parted ways with the Vikings as assistant coach.

ESPN

Dennison, who had served as the Vikings’ offensive line coach/run game coordinator the past two seasons, is believed to be the first NFL position coach to part ways with his team after choosing not to receive a vaccine.

The vaccine is required for all Tier 1 staff, including coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers and scouts. Players are not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but will face strict protocols during training camp and throughout the season that vaccinated players will be able to forgo.

In a memo released by the league earlier this summer, the NFL said any unvaccinated Tier 1 staff member must provide a valid religious or medical reason for not receiving the vaccine. Losing Tier 1 status prohibits coaches from being on the field and in meeting rooms and having direct interactions with players.

Phil Rauscher has been promoted from assistant offensive line coach to fill Dennison’s position, sources told ESPN. The Vikings also hired Ben Steele, who had recently been hired by Auburn as a special-teams analyst, to fill the position Rauscher had held since 2019.

Dennison’s departure comes at a time of transition for the Vikings offense, which will be guided by first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, who was promoted this offseason to fill the role his father, Gary, held in Minnesota during the 2020 season.

With 27 years of NFL coaching experience, Dennison was considered a vital piece in helping bridge the gap for the younger Kubiak given his extensive experience calling run plays and knowledge of the scheme the Vikings have used since the 2019 season.

The Vikings were one of the league’s heaviest 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 in 2020, the second-highest rate in the NFL behind Derrick Henry (33.8), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Dennison worked with Gary Kubiak for more than three decades in Denver (1995-2009, 2015-16), Houston (2010-13) and Baltimore (2014). Prior to joining the Vikings in 2019, Dennison served as the offensive line coach/run game coordinator for the New York Jets during the 2018 season.

Rauscher is entering his seventh season as a coach in the NFL after joining the Vikings in 2020. He coached with Dennison on the Broncos staff during the 2015 and 2016 seasons and was Washington‘s offensive line coach in 2019.

Steele was on several NFL rosters as a tight end from 2001 to 2007, including in Houston under Gary Kubiak. He began working in the NFL in 2013 as an offensive quality control coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a position he held until 2016. Steele was later promoted to tight ends coach for the Buccaneers before moving to the Atlanta Falcons, where he was an offensive assistant in 2019 and tight ends coach in 2020. He was hired by Auburn earlier this year.

The Vikings will hold their first training camp practice Wednesday.