In re-stocking their coaching staff, the Cleveland NFL team hired a controversial new special teams coordinator who was accused of offensive comments in 2012.
The Cleveland Browns underwent an extraordinary transformation in 2018 and have sought to build on that success in their offseason. Following the mid-season firing of Hue Jackson and the elevation of Gregg Williams as interim head coach, it was unsurprising that a series of coaching changes have been the biggest moves from the Browns these last few weeks.
Shortly after the news that the Browns would be moving offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens as their new head coach, the Browns front office began seeking out new hires to fill the coaching infrastructure around him. One of their top priorities was a new special teams coach following the Browns’ lackluster performance this season.
Their solution to this problem was hiring former Vikings coach Mike Priefer.
Priefer was the special teams coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings for eight seasons. His contract expired in 2018, and rather than renegotiating, he sought out a fresh start with the Browns. Last year, the Vikings’ special teams unit under Priefer ranked 20th in the NFL.
However, one particular issue with this new hire has been questionable at best: Priefer has had some notable baggage with a suspension in 2014. Priefer inspired controversy in 2012 following a series of homophobic comments directed towards former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Kluwe, a particularly outspoken supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage, published a series of articles supporting same-sex marriage in 2012 that drew ire from Priefer.
According to a suit filed by Kluwe, Priefer was unsupportive at best and downright abusive at worst, culminating in a particularly infamous exchange in which Priefer insisted that “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
Despite these comments taking place in 2012, it wasn’t until two years later that Priefer faced any sort of backlash from the Vikings’ front office. Priefer denied Kluwe’s accusations, but after an internal investigation found that Priefer made at least one homophobic remark, he was suspended by the team for three games in 2014 and made to participate in sensitivity training.
That was the extent of Minnesota’s concern — Priefer retained his job and, in 2016, was even elevated to interim head coach when Mike Zimmer missed a game due to eye surgery.
To break it down further, the Vikings were consistently ranked in the top half of special teams categories. Additionally, he also brings over 17 years of NFL coaching experience, including stints with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs as special teams coordinator.
Priefer performed reasonably well at his job, and so the Vikings were happy to let him pass with a slap on the wrist for merely saying that gay people should be nuked out of existence.
This new opportunity with the Browns has raised the same questions surrounding the controversy from a few seasons ago. However, it is abundantly clear in the NFL that ability trumps any type of character concerns whatsoever.