(AP) — Special teams coach Mike Priefer has been back on the practice field for the Minnesota Vikings this week, coaching a group of players that struggled last weekend against New England and spending long hours at the office formulating a game plan for the New Orleans Saints.
It’s been a welcome return to normalcy for Priefer, who was engulfed in controversy over the summer after an investigation verified former punter Chris Kluwe’s claims that the coach made anti-gay remarks during practice and in meetings. The Vikings suspended Priefer for the first three games of the season, but reduced that penalty to a two-game ban after Priefer completed sensitivity training.
“It was very positive,” Priefer told reporters at team headquarters Thursday in his first public comments since the suspension was lifted on Sunday night. “It was very professionally done. 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.”
When asked if he’s changed in any way after being deluged with criticism for making the comments and taking the subsequent training, Priefer said, “I don’t know if I’ve changed, but I think I have more awareness of my surroundings and other people around me. I think I’m a better man because of it.”
Priefer said he got to work at 5:30 a.m. Monday after watching the special teams units commit several blunders in a 30-7 loss to the Patriots.
“Both games were hard to watch,” he said. “I was with my family. I think they were watching me, seeing how I was going to react. It’s kind of weird for them, especially my kids. My daughter looked at me and said, ‘Dad, this is kind of weird,’ seeing me sitting on the couch watching the Vikings. It was hard. It was difficult.”
He received a standing ovation from the players when he walked into a team meeting on Monday morning that Priefer called “awesome.”
“It’s time to move on,” Priefer said. “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 weapon on special teams and that’s been my message all along.”
Coach Mike Zimmer said earlier in the week that he was happy to see Priefer back at work.
“I’m proud that Mike did the things that he had to do,” Zimmer said. “I’m proud that we didn’t ruin a guy’s career because he made a mistake. I’m glad that we were able to stand by him. I appreciate all his hard work and the things that he has done during these two weeks, we’re glad to have him back.”
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