Todd Hoffner was reinstated as head coach of the Minnesota State-Mankato football team after an arbitrator ruled he should be allowed to keep his job, saying he was unjustly fired as a result of unfounded child pornography allegations. However, his players are refusing to suit up for him and are demanding that the interim coach keep the job.
The players took the field yesterday dressed in street clothes and announced in a prepared statement their desire for interim coach Aaron Keen to remain their head coach.
“We’ve all become outstanding community members, students and athletes in the last year and a half since the removal of Todd Hoffner,” junior safety Sam Thompson said. “Throughout this process we have been silent. It is time our voice is heard.”
Thompson added that the players have decided not to practice because they are unhappy with the coaching situation and because the team is theirs, they are demanding answers.
Hoffner, 47, was arrested in 2012 when naked images of his children were discovered on his university-issued cell phone. He proclaimed his innocence, saying the charges were ridiculous and the photographs were merely images of his children playing after a bath. An investigation concluded the same and he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but the university still chose to suspend and later fire Hoffner. Last week, almost one year later, he was reinstated. Hoffner said Minnesota State officials did not apologize to him directly, but released a statement to the media, apologizing to him and his family. It is our sincere hope, the statement said, that all concerned can now find ways to move forward. Hoffner said in a news conference that coming back is the right thing to do for him and his family and that it would help to heal the injury they have suffered.
Hoffner was offered and accepted the head coaching job at Minot State in North Dakota back in January , but told players in spring practice that he wanted to return to Minnesota because he has family there and helped grow the program into a national power. According to the arbitrator’s ruling, even if Hoffner had elected not to return, he would have still been entitled to recoup the money he has lost during his 20 months in limbo, as the school would have been forced to honor the four-year contract it previously had with him, paying him the $15,000 difference in salaries between the two schools.
In his four seasons with Minnesota State-Mankato, Hoffner compiled a 34-13 record and in 2011 won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Championship. As the team’s interim head coach during the 2012 season, Keen, who acted as Hoffner’s offensive coordinator, led the Mavericks to a record of 13-1 and the semifinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs. In 2013, Keen guided them to an 11-1 finish and the second round of the playoffs. Hoffner has admitted to having mixed feelings about returning to Minnesota State, but only because he did not want Keen to lose the head job. He told his players that he wished he did not have to make this decision, but he always wanted his job back.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat