EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — One meeting had ended and Mike Priefer was off to another on his first day back with the Minnesota Vikings on Monday, the embattled special teams coordinator just trying to return to his regular schedule.
Vikings players were already assembled when Priefer entered the meeting room. As much as Priefer had thought about his return and getting back to coaching, he wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Priefer, back from a two-week suspension, was given an ovation by Minnesota’s players.
"It was a really, really cool thing," Priefer said of his reception. "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 waited for the moment to rejoin meetings, rejoin players and resume his coaching career. Given an early reinstatement by Vikings ownership, Priefer returned to the Vikings on Monday. He didn’t arrive at midnight to start work, but he was in before 6 a.m. looking forward to picking up where he left off.
"I don’t know if I’ve changed, but I think I have more awareness of my surroundings and other people around me," Priefer said. "I think I’m a better man because of it."
An investigation after claims by former punter Chris Kluwe confirmed Priefer had made insensitive remarks during a special teams meeting. Priefer was away from the team since the beginning of the regular-season. He was forced to serve a three-game suspension for his actions, but ownership kept open the possibility of the suspension being reduced.
Priefer stayed in town, spent time with his family and spent his usual working hours attending sensitivity training.
"It was very positive," Priefer said of the training. "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."
Watching from afar wasn’t easy for Priefer. His wife told him to not throw things if he was watching the team’s games at home. His daughter said it was "weird" to sit and watch a Vikings game with dad.
"It was hard. It was difficult," Priefer said, later adding: "I was pretty calm. The only time I got really excited was when (punt returner 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."
Coach Mike Zimmer was happy to have Priefer back, after sticking with him throughout the investigation. Priefer, in his fourth season as Minnesota’s special teams coordinator, was the only coordinator retained by Zimmer, who was hired as the head coach in January.
"I think it’s good," Zimmer said on Monday. "I’m proud that Mike did the things that he had to do. 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’s done during these two weeks. We’re glad to have him back."
Priefer apologized to his players in a meeting Monday.
"I know it was hard for them," Priefer said. "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."
The Vikings had uncharacteristic miscues on special teams in last week’s loss at New England. The focus for Priefer was improvement and looking ahead.
"He just apologized for his actions and he was happy to be back," fullback Jerome Felton said on Monday. "It was about moving forward. We had some mishaps happen in the last week and he said it ends today. We’re going to move forward, everything is positive. I’m looking forward to getting on the practice field with him this week."
Priefer is pleased to be back on the field, too.
"I’m glad I’m back," Priefer said. "I’m excited to be around the team, be around the coaches and the organization again. We’re going to move forward."