Mike Priefer called the reception he received upon his return to the Vikings one of the greatest moments in his coaching career.
The Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator was back at Winter Park before 6 a.m. Monday after serving a two-game suspension for an anti-gay comment he made in the presence of former punter Chris Kluwe. There was no difficult reception to navigate. Instead, when Priefer entered the team meeting room, he was met by a standing ovation from the players.
“It was awesome. We had a staff meeting so normally I’m there about three or four minutes before the meeting starts. I walked in right as the meeting started because we were just finishing up a staff meeting and it was a really, really cool thing. It was something I didn’t expect. It was a warm reception and I really appreciated it,” Priefer said.
“I’m an emotional guy anyway and I did really appreciate it. Looking back on it, that will be one of the great things that’s ever happened to me as a football coach.”
Priefer has spent the whole calendar year dealing with questions about the controversy surrounding Kluwe’s allegations, but after attending sensitivity training during his time away from the team, his return was a welcome happening for both the players and the life-long coach.
Unfortunately for him and the Vikings, his task might be a little bigger than normal this week after a tough performance Sunday for the Vikings and especially the special teams.
There was a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. There was the essential shutdown of Cordarrelle Patterson as a kick returner. There were punt returns of 28 and 34 yards given up by the Vikings. And there was a time when the Vikings had only nine men on the field for a punt that was downed by the Patriots at the 4-yard line.
“Both games were hard to watch. I was with my family and I think they were watching me, seeing how I was going to react and it was kind of weird for them, especially my kids,” Priefer said of his viewing from the couch. “My daughter looked at me and said, ‘Dad, this is really weird’ seeing me watching the Vikings play while I was sitting on the couch. It was hard. It was difficult.”
Priefer said he probably can’t repeat what his reaction was to the Vikings having only nine men on the field during that downed punt, but he knew in advance his family was hoping he would be as reserved as possible for him.
“I actually got a lecture from my wife about not to do (get too emotional) so I followed through with that. I was pretty calm. The only time I got really excited was when Marcus (Sherels) got hit in the Rams game. I thought we lost him because he got hit pretty hard. That was my big concern there,” Priefer said.
During his time away, Priefer was allowed to watch the games on television and also received the film of them on his iPad. But per terms of the suspension he wasn’t allowed to communicate with the players or the coaching staff.
When the Vikings announced his suspension, they also informed the media that longtime NFL special teams coach Joe Marciano would be brought in as a consultant. Marciano left the team this week as Priefer slid back into his lead role.
“When I walked in Monday, I just let them know that I appreciated all their effort when I was gone and it’s all behind us; it’s over,” Priefer said. “The situation is a dead issue. It’s time to move on. I know it was hard for them. I apologized to them because of what I basically put them through being away for two weeks, but now it’s time to improve and to get better, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got 14 regular-season games left and I think we’ve got a good football team and we have to be a weapon on special teams and that’s been my message all along. So I just continued on with the message that I had all throughout training camp.”
Priefer’s suspension was supposed to be three games but could be reduced to two games if he went through sensitivity training. He successfully completed that and returned the Vikings on Monday. He said the details of his training will remain confidential, but he said he has “more awareness” and is “a better man because of it.”
“It was very positive. It was very professionally done,” he said. “Like anything else in life, if you put a lot into it, you’re going to get a lot out of it. I tell my kids that. I tell our players that. So I went into it with a great attitude and I got a lot out of it, to be honest with you.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Priefer ‘a better man’ upon return to Vikings
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