Jim Kleinsasser, a 13-year veteran with the Vikings, has decided to retire from the NFL after this season.

Kleinsasser, a second-round draft choice (44th overall) out of North Dakota in 1999, has been a starter since his rookie season and has been hailed by Vikings coaches as one of the best tight ends to play for the Purple.

"I think my wife has always been happy either way [if I play or not], but I think she is, along with myself, excited to move on to the next parts of our life," said the 34-year-old Kleinsasser, a native of Carrington, N.D., who is the father of two children, ages 2 and 4.

Kleinsasser, who will be a free agent at the end of this year, said that the Vikings had interest in him coming back and he isn't retiring because he can't play.

In fact, Vikings tight end coach Jimmie Johnson recently described Kleinsasser as "one of the best tight ends in the NFL."

"That kind of makes me feel good about that, I still feel like I can play," Kleinsasser said Thursday. "I'm walking away with two legs that work great and my head is still intact, so I think I feel good about leaving the game right now and just kind of moving on."

Asked what has been the highlight of his career, he said: "Oh, just coming in and hanging with the guys. I can't say there's one single game or play or anything. We've had some great years: '09 was a great year, 2000 was a great year, the NFC Championship games. But coming into work and just hanging out with the guys and sitting in meetings and just the camaraderie of a bunch of guys sweating and bleeding together for a common cause, I think that's one of my biggest memories."

The Vikings are going to miss Kleinsasser, not only because they are going to have a hard time replacing him but because he is one of the real leaders in that locker room and one real class act.

Cook will be back It's pretty certain that the Vikings will bring back cornerback Chris Cook, who has been sidelined since getting arrested and subsequently charged for domestic assault in late October, once he works out his personal problems.

Because of a lack of depth at defensive back, don't be surprised to see veteran Cedric Griffin, who has not seen the field much either of the past two weeks, get some more playing time Saturday at Washington. But guard Steve Hutchinson won't play because of a concussion; until he landed on injured reserve late last season because of a thumb injury, he hadn't missed a game since 2002.

Shanahan's local ties Joe Salem was named Gophers football coach in 1979. Mike Shanahan had been a running backs coach on Salem's staff at Northern Arizona in 1977 and then went to alma mater Eastern Illinois as offensive coordinator in 1978; that year, Eastern Illinois went 12-2 and won the Division II national title.

So Salem hired Shanahan, then 27, and let him install the run-and-shoot offense with the Gophers. Even though they finished 4-6-1 in 1979, they put on a show on offense and were outscored by only seven points on the season.

In fact, they were so impressive that then-Florida coach Charley Pell hired Shanahan after he had been on the Gophers staff for only one year. Florida was 0-10-1 in 1979, Pell's first year; the next four years with Shanahan as the offensive coordinator, the Gators went 8-4, 7-5, 8-4 and 9-2-1, going to a bowl game each season.

Shanahan then became a receivers coach for the Denver Broncos in 1984 before being promoted to offensive coordinator, a job he held for three years before getting his first head coaching job, with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988.

"Mike was a graduate assistant on the Oklahoma staff at the time [I first hired him]," Salem said. "They were playing in the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix and I went down and interviewed him and hired him.

"You talk to him today, he hasn't changed any. He was sharp, he knew what he was doing, he was a good asset.

"He's the one that kind of went out, he went out and we ran the run-and-shoot that year and he's the one that went out and got all the information from Mouse Davis and put it all together. He's very good. I can't say enough good things about him."

Shanahan has been coach and executive vice president of the Redskins since January 2010. They went 6-10 last year and are 5-9 this season, but Salem believes that Shanahan can still make them into a winner.

"He told me, he said they were still three years away from being a good football team," Salem said. "That was his comment at the time [he was hired]. That's probably the timetable that he's on."

Jottings• Besides the six junior college football players who have signed with the Gophers and will register for classes in January and be available for spring practice and conditioning, two high school recruits also will start classes on campus next month: Quarterbacks Philip Nelson of Mankato West, who was named Associated Press Player of the Year, and Mitch Leidner of Lakeville South are both graduating early and starting college. They will officially sign in February.

• Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant described Nick Davidson, son of Vikings offensive line coach Jeff, as one of the best players he has coached in 20 years. Nick Davidson has announced he is going to Stanford. His brother, A.J., is a freshman wide receiver who will likely play for Eden Prairie next year. Coincidentally, both brothers had surgery this year. ... Andrew Larson, Eden Prairie's two-time all-state running back who led the school to its seventh state title, has committed to Harvard. He ran for 4,084 yards in his career with 52 touchdowns.

• Three former Gophers have signed with NFL teams the past couple of weeks. The Chargers signed linebacker Nate Triplett to their active roster Dec. 7. In addition, fullback Jon Hoese signed with the Packers practice squad, and the Patriots practice squad added defensive lineman Cedric McKinley on Tuesday. Hoese, who has been working on the family farm, joined the Packers before last weekend's game.

• Among the players the Vikings released this year now with other teams are tackle Bryant McKinnie with the Ravens, offensive lineman Ryan Cook with the Dolphins, linebacker Heath Farwell with the Seahawks, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy with the Giants, safety Madieu Williams with the 49ers, receiver Jaymar Johnson with the Cardinals and cornerback Tony Carter with the Broncos.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com