Things are getting ugly between Chris Kluwe and the Vikings. I won’t rehash the details here, but a Google search will show you that over the past 72 hours or so, there have been a lot of juicy developments in this story, and it looks like things are going to get worse for both sides before they get better.
This led me to wonder: given the major distraction and potential for public embarrassment that this is sure to cause, why didn’t the Vikings simply fire Mike Priefer when the new coaching staff came in last January? It’s the norm for a new head coach to bring in his own people, and it’s unusual for a coach to retain any coordinators from a previous staff. It seems like special teams is probably an especially easy position to replace. So why didn’t the Vikings just let go of Priefer at a point when no one would have batted an eye or assumed that his firing would have lent any credibility to Kluwe’s claims?
Mike Florio of PFT, who has some experience in these matters as a former employment attorney, has some interesting ideas.
In most employment disputes, the manager accused of wrongdoing doesn’t get fired unless the preliminary investigation points unmistakably to conduct so heinous that it’s impossible to keep the manager employed. Far more often, the company embraces the accused because the company needs the accused to cooperate — and to not be disgruntled.
If the Vikings had fired Priefer, who knows what he would have said to investigators? By talking to him in early January, Priefer’s initial interview was even more likely to reflect favorably on the team because the head coach had been fired but Priefer’s fate had not yet been determined. If the Vikings had decided to move on from Priefer and if Priefer had been interviewed after the fact, maybe Priefer would have shared details about discussions leading to Kluwe’s release without the kind of care and precision that would keep those comments from being regarded as proof that he was cut because of his support of gay rights.
It’s possible, then, that Kluwe may have done Priefer a huge favor, keeping Priefer employed for as long as Kluwe’s anticipated lawsuit lasts.
Yes, that’s a very cynical view of how business gets done, especially in an industry so driven by results. Still, litigation and the threat of it creates a distinct bunker mentality in any organization, with folks who otherwise would be left unprotected getting one of the best seats in the house for as long as the threat lasts.
The idea that Kluwe’s allegations might have helped Priefer keep his job is richly ironic indeed. Had Kluwe waited another month before publishing his accusations, Priefer might have been fired anyway.