Vikings Retain Embattled Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer
he Minnesota Vikings have finalized their assistants under new coach Mike Zimmer, including special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, the target of a discrimination complaint by one of his former players.
The Vikings said Thursday that Priefer will be one of seven holdovers from the previous staff, along with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, wide receivers coach George Stewart and others. Zimmer was hired three weeks ago to replace Leslie Frazier, who was fired after 3½ seasons.
Norv Turner will mark his 30th year of coaching in the NFL as the offensive coordinator, as widely reported for weeks, and George Edwards will be the defensive coordinator. Priefer, who was hired by Frazier, will return for his fourth season with the team.
From kicker Blair Walsh to kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings have had one of the league's best special teams groups under Priefer's guidance. But last month, former punter Chris Kluwe wrote a scathing essay for the sports gossip website Deadspin.com alleging that Priefer made anti-gay comments around the team. Kluwe also claimed he was released last year because of his outspoken support of gay marriage rights, not due to on-field performance, and that Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman urged him to tone down his message.
Priefer responded through a detailed statement distributed by the team, denying Kluwe's claims. The Vikings issued a strongly worded support of civil rights, equality and tolerance. Owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf initiated an independent investigation, still ongoing, led by a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and a former federal trial attorney. Several current players came to the defense of Priefer's character. Kluwe hired a lawyer.
"As far as I know the investigation hasn't been concluded yet, so I'll be waiting for that to happen," Kluwe said Thursday, declining further comment.
The Vikings scheduled a question-and-answer session with Turner and Edwards for later Thursday but had no plans to make Zimmer or Priefer available.
"I am very excited about the coaching staff that we put together," Zimmer said in a prepared statement issued by the team. "We have an experienced and diverse staff that will work tirelessly to get the most out of our players. This offseason will be a great chance for us to work together and prepare for the upcoming season."
Both Zimmer and Turner will have their sons on staff. Scott Turner is the quarterbacks coach, after supervising the wide receivers last season in Cleveland while his dad ran the offense. Adam Zimmer will coach the linebackers, after serving as an assistant in Cincinnati while his father was the defensive coordinator.
Ryan Ficken (assistant special teams), Jeff Howard (moved to defensive assistant), Klint Kubiak (moved to assistant wide receivers and offensive quality control) and Kevin Stefanski (tight ends) were also retained from Frazier's staff. The new hires were Robb Akey (assistant defensive line), Jonathan Gannon (assistant defensive backs and quality control), Jerry Gray (defensive backs), Andre Patterson (defensive line), Drew Petzing (coaching assistant) and Kirby Wilson (running backs).
Zimmer has never before been a head coach, but Turner has -- for 15 seasons, no less, with Washington, Oakland and San Diego. He has eight years on his resume as an NFL offensive coordinator, also with Dallas, San Diego, Miami and San Francisco. Edwards was most recently the linebackers coach for Miami. He has been a defensive coordinator twice before, for Washington in 2003 and Buffalo in 2010 and 2011.