EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Chris Kluwe’s time with the Minnesota Vikings was on borrowed time almost from the minute last season ended, and it was his position coach pushing for the change.
Minnesota’s special teams coordinator, Mike Priefer, said he “very strongly” pushed for an upgrade from Kluwe in the postseason report he filed with head coach Leslie Frazier and the front office. Kluwe, the Vikings’ punter for six seasons known as much for his outspoken, public stances on political topics as his punting, was released in May after Minnesota drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round.
Priefer, who had been a big proponent of drafting kicker Blair Walsh last year and replacing Ryan Longwell, made his report that the team needed to improve and move on from Kluwe, who is statistically one of the best punters in team history.
“It was more consistency and productivity,” Priefer said Wednesday of his reasoning behind the push. “I just felt like we needed to make a change there.”
Kluwe, who owns Minnesota’s top career gross punting average of 44.4 yards-per-punt and is second in team history with a 37.3 net average, had one of his best statistical seasons in 2012, but called his own season “average” and noted the big numbers put up league-wide by punters last season.
Kluwe averaged a career-best 39.7 net average last season, which ranked 17th in the league. His gross average of 45.0 yards-per-punt was the third-best of his career, but only good for 22nd among all punters last season. He also endured a midseason slump that had many questioning his focus on his NFL job, though Priefer said then Kluwe was putting in all the requisite work.
Later, after more public attention and an in-game protest of sorts against the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s lack of punters, specifically Ray Guy, Priefer said, “those distractions are getting old to me.”
Of course, the belief was Kluwe’s outspoken nature was the reason behind the team drafting Locke and moving on from its long-time punter.
But Priefer said the change was strictly made for performance reasons and said he parted ways with Kluwe on good terms.
“You know, it’s funny, a lot of people like to write and report that he and I didn’t get along,” Priefer said. “I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe. I think based on what he’s done in his career, and as a man and as an athlete, and for anybody that stands up for what he believes in like Chris did, I have a lot of respect for guys like that. And we had a long talk after the draft. I thought he knew the writing was on the wall and I figured I wasn’t going to lie to him. I figured if the young guy came in and had a good rookie minicamp, that’s what’s going to happen and I wish him the best in Oakland, I really do.”
After being released by Minnesota, Kluwe signed with the Oakland Raiders.