MINNEAPOLIS -- There is, at last, purple smoke from the Minnesota Vikings' offices. The team has announced its 2014 coaching staff, adding some previously unreported names to a group of coaches that had largely been identified weeks ago. But now that the Vikings have a staff in place -- and have confirmed, as many had expected, that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer is on it -- they will be confronted with the obvious question:
Why keep Priefer on the staff before the conclusion of an internal investigation the team pledged it was taking seriously?
That question will linger for several days, and possibly longer, without an answer from the Vikings; neither Priefer nor new head coach Mike Zimmer is being made available to reporters to discuss the decision on Thursday, though both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are expected to make some brief remarks at the team's annual Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally fundraiser on Saturday morning. But the inclusion of Priefer on the Vikings' 2014 staff might not mean the case is closed on the investigation.
It is easier for investigators Eric Magnuson and Chris Madel to get in contact with Priefer if he's still in town, employed by the team with a stake in the game, so to speak. In fact, my sense of things is that the Vikings knew that letting Priefer go now would make it more difficult for investigators to conclude their work in an accurate and timely manner. If, when the review is finished, investigators have proved that Priefer is responsible for reprehensible conduct, the Vikings can discipline or dismiss him then. Making a move then, instead of now, would stand on its own and eliminate any rationale for making the move that could have been explained away with a change in coaching staffs. It would send a clear message about what the Vikings will and will not tolerate. Until that point, though, why put a well-respected special-teams coach on the open market when you're not sure what will happen?
Priefer was the driving force behind the Vikings drafting Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh, and played a large role in the decision to trade up and take Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round last year. Priefer seems likely to click with Zimmer, a fellow coach's son who touted the virtues of that pedigree at his opening news conference -- and put his own son, as well as the son of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, on his first Vikings staff. Dismissing Priefer now would have essentially rendered a guilty verdict in the middle of the investigation, and would have required the Vikings to part with an asset they seem to value. It would have been one thing if Zimmer and Priefer didn't see eye-to-eye, or if Zimmer had his own special-teams coordinator he wanted to hire. But otherwise, there's nothing forcing the Vikings to levy discipline in the middle of the investigation when they can wait and see if the results of the investigation compel them to do something.
The counterargument to all of this, of course, is that the Vikings are effectively giving Priefer a clean slate by announcing now that he will be on their 2014 staff. But let's be realistic: If the investigation makes it obvious the Vikings need to part with Priefer, they will do so, whether it's in January or February or June.
At the moment, they're simply saying they like the results Priefer has produced on the field, and that he's innocent until proven guilty, or at least liable. That might not be true in the court of public opinion, but it should also not be construed to mean the Vikings have washed their hands of the situation. Considering where they are now, the wisest course of action might be to let things play out.