ST. PAUL -- After three months of discussions, the Minnesota Vikings announced Tuesday a new role for assistant coach Rick Dennison, who has declined to be vaccinated for the coronavirus.

On the day before Wednesday’s start of training camp at the TCO Performance Center, the Vikings moved Dennison, their offensive line coach/run-game coordinator the past two seasons, to senior offensive advisor, a position with which he will have no direct dealings with coaches and players. They replaced Dennison with assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher and hired Ben Steele away from Auburn to move into Rauscher’s previous spot.

“Rick Dennison is an important part of this staff,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “His agent, Peter Schaffer, and a lot of us worked extremely hard to find a resolution. We’re following the new protocols that have been put out by the NFL and the (NFL Players Association). We’re very excited for him to still be a part of this staff in his capacity, but also seeing Phil Rauscher and giving him an opportunity to be the lead in that offensive line room, along with the addition of Ben Steele.”

ESPN reported last Friday that Dennison, 63, was out as a Vikings assistant after declining to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, but the Vikings followed that up with a statement saying discussions with Dennison were ongoing. On Tuesday, Schaffer expressed disappointment in the report, saying it was “never in the equation” that Dennison would be “fired.”

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine this season is required for all Tier 1 staff members of NFL teams, which includes coaches. The league has said that any unvaccinated Tier 1 staff member would need to provide a valid religious or medical reason for not receiving the vaccine. Those not in Tier 1 cannot be on the field and in meeting rooms or have direct contact with players.

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Dennison, who was the last remaining Vikings coach to not be vaccinated, was not granted an exception. Spielman and Schaffer declined to discuss why he will not get vaccinated.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and Schaffer both said discussions had been going on for three months about a potential new role for Dennison.

“This has been in the works,” Schaffer said. “We had to wait until protocols were developed and put in place.”


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In his new role, Dennison will communicate virtually with Vikings coaches and players.

“He will be in contact with coach Zim,” Spielman said. “He will be in contact with (offensive coordinator) Klint (Kubiak), with Phil and basically just the whole offense in giving his input.”

Zimmer called it important to continue to use Dennison “as a resource.” Dennison was an NFL linebacker from 1982-90 and has 26 years of experience as an NFL assistant, including 10 as an offensive coordinator.

“He’s going to watch the practice with the offensive coaches, he’s going to be helping to evaluate,” Zimmer said. “As we start getting ready for the games in the season, he’ll be helping with game plan ideas, third-down ideas, protection ideas.”

Zimmer said the Vikings will not give another coach the title of run-game coordinator.

Rauscher, 36, enters his seventh NFL season and second with the Vikings. He was Washington’s offensive line coach in 2019.

“I’ve got the utmost confidence in Phil,” Zimmer said. “He’s had very many opportunities to leave here and we’ve talked him out of it because I figured someday Rick might decide to retire and Phil would be ready to go. … I felt like this was the best win-win situation for our football team and also with (Dennison).”

The Vikings are retooling their offensive line, and could have two rookie starters in left tackle Christian Darrisaw and right guard Wyatt Davis. But Spielman and Zimmer both insisted it’s not a big challenge replacing Dennison at the start of camp.

“(It’d be tougher) if it was a completely different system and we brought a guy in off the street that was going to change the protection calls and the run-game calls and things like that,” Zimmer said. “But Phil has been in the system. … Phil is a very aggressive, boisterous coach that will push these guys.”

Steele was an NFL tight end from 2001-07 and an NFL assistant from 2013-20 before taking a job as Auburn’s special-teams analyst earlier this year. He was with the Atlanta Falcons the past two seasons, including last year as tight ends coach.