ESPN’s report that Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison is out ultimately may be accurate. For now, it’s at least premature.
“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. “At this time, Coach Dennison does not have an exemption to the vaccination requirements of those protocols. We will adhere to the requirements of the protocols and of applicable law.”
This implies that Dennison sought an exemption, and that it was denied. If so, he’ll now have to decide whether to get vaccinated.
Previously, coaches who chose not to be vaccinated weren’t going to be fired or pushed out. However, they also weren’t going to receive direct access to players if they lose Tier 1 status.
Thursday’s memo may have changed that, raising the stakes considerably for outbreaks involving unvaccinated players and staff. With no union to protect assistant coaches, it’s far easier for teams to take a hard line with coaches than players. Given the hard line the league is taking with players, it’s no surprise that teams with assistant coaches who haven’t gotten vaccinated are pushing them to do so — perhaps even to the point of leaking to ESPN the incorrect notion that the assistant coach has been fired in order to prove to the assistant coach in question that the team is serious about its position.
Dennison remains ready to do his job.
“At alll times Rick Dennison has at all times been ready, willing, and able to work and to do everything in his power to help the Minnesota Vikings win a Super Bowl,” Dennison’s agent, Peter Schaffer, told PFT. “That continues to be his mindset.”
It’s a good mindset to have. If Dennison ends up getting fired at a time when he’s ready and willing to work, he’d likely have a strong claim to receive his pay. Although the Vikings could fire Dennison for cause and not pay him, firing him for declining to be vaccinated most likely does not amount to a for-cause firing.
At this point, however, the Vikings and other teams with assistant coaches who refuse the vaccine may not care. Even if those individuals end up being paid to not work, some teams may prefer to get them out of the building completely, if for no reason other than to further demonstrate to the players who serious the team and the league are about players and staff choosing to be vaccinated.