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Zimmer's Vikings staff keeps Priefer, subject of under-investigation discrimination complaint

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings have finalized their assistants under new coach Mike Zimmer, including special teams co-ordinator Mike Priefer, the target of a discrimination complaint by one of his former players.

The Vikings said Thursday that Priefer will be one of seven holdovers from the previous staff, along with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, wide receivers coach George Stewart and others.

Norv Turner will mark his 30th year of coaching in the NFL as the offensive co-ordinator, as widely reported for weeks, and George Edwards will be the defensive co-ordinator. Priefer will return for his fourth season with the team.

From kicker Blair Walsh to kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings have had some of the league's best special teams units under Priefer's guidance. But last month, former punter Chris Kluwe wrote a scathing essay for the sports gossip website Deadspin.com alleging Priefer made anti-gay comments around the team. Kluwe also claimed he was released last year because of his outspoken support of gay marriage rights, not on-field performance, and that coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman urged him to tone down his message.

Priefer, through a statement distributed by the team, denying Kluwe's claims. The Vikings issued a strongly worded support of civil rights, equality and tolerance and initiated an independent investigation, led by a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and a former federal trial attorney. Several current players defended Priefer's character. Kluwe hired a lawyer.

Kluwe deferred comment until after the conclusion of the investigation, expected in a couple of weeks. His attorney, Clayton Halunen, said he and his client would probably wait until the findings are released before taking any action. But of the retention of Priefer, Halunen said, "it appears then that this whole investigation was nothing more than a sham."

If Kluwe's allegations aren't corroborated by the Vikings, Halunen said, they'll file a wrongful termination suit.

"We want some kind of meaningful resolution where we can ensure that this kind of thing will not be allowed to continue," Halunen said. "There should be a zero-tolerance policy. In the Vikings organization they've professed that that's their interest as well, but by putting him back into this role, that doesn't show zero tolerance to some very serious, hostile and hateful behaviour."

Vikings spokesman Bob Hagan cited the ongoing nature of the investigation and said the organization wouldn't comment further. Zimmer was not available to reporters.

"I am very excited about the coaching staff that we put together," Zimmer said in a prepared statement issued by the team. "We have an experienced and diverse staff that will work tirelessly to get the most out of our players."

Both Zimmer and Turner will have their sons on staff. Scott Turner is the quarterbacks coach, after supervising the wide receivers last season in Cleveland while his dad ran the offence. Adam Zimmer will coach the linebackers, after serving as an assistant in Cincinnati while his father was the defensive co-ordinator.

Ryan Ficken (assistant special teams), Jeff Howard (moved to defensive assistant), Klint Kubiak (moved to assistant wide receivers and offensive quality control) and Kevin Stefanski (tight ends) were also retained from Frazier's staff. The new hires were Robb Akey (assistant defensive line), Jonathan Gannon (assistant defensive backs and quality control), Jerry Gray (defensive backs), Andre Patterson (defensive line), Drew Petzing (coaching assistant) and Kirby Wilson (running backs).

Zimmer has never before been a head coach, but Turner has -- for 15 seasons, with Washington, Oakland and San Diego. He has eight years on his resume as an NFL offensive co-ordinator, also with Dallas, San Diego, Miami and San Francisco.

The impact the Turners, father and son, have on the quarterback position will go a long way toward this team's success. Matt Cassel will become a free agent, though he could be re-signed. Christian Ponder is still under contract but not considered the starter here anymore.

So how about that eighth pick in the draft? Does it have to be a quarterback?

"I don't have to answer questions like that anymore," Turner said. "Rick and Mike, I'm sure have been talking about it a lot. ... I think everyone is in agreement that we are trying to add a young quarterback to the organization. We just have to make sure it's a good one wherever we get him."

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Online:

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org

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Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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