Ex-Minnesota State, Mankato head coach returning to job
MINNEAPOLIS — The football coach fired from Minnesota State, Mankato said Tuesday he will return to his old job after an arbitrator ruled he was wrongfully terminated, saying the decision wasn’t easy but that it would help him and his family heal.
Todd Hoffner was fired last May for reasons undisclosed at the time. But the dismissal came after he was cleared of child pornography charges stemming from images of his children on a work-issued cellphone, accusations he called the "most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in my life."
"I believe that resuming my duties as head football coach will help heal that injury," he said during a news conference Tuesday. "I’m not interested in revenge. … I’m not a spiteful person."
Hoffner was hired in January as head coach at Minot State, and he said he would be "forever grateful" to the North Dakota school. But he said he decided to go back to Mankato for simple reasons.
"My family lives there, we have roots there, I helped grow the program to a national power," he said.
He plans to resume his duties at Mankato on Wednesday.
The university released a statement saying that it welcomed Hoffner back as head coach.
"This has been a difficult journey for all involved," the statement said. "We extend our apologies to Mr. Hoffner and deeply regret the difficulties he and his family have experienced. … It is our sincere hope that all concerned can now find ways to move forward."
Hoffner, 47, was arrested and charged with child pornography in 2012 after university staff found images of his naked children on a work-issued cellphone. But a judge dismissed the charges three months later, saying the videos depicted only innocent images of children acting playful after a bath.
His supporters said the school overreacted in the wake of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State, noting his high-profile arrest came just months after retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of child sex abuse.
"Two years ago I sat in a jail cell overnight in an orange jumpsuit wondering why. First there was shock, then there was fear, then there was anger and … I pulled myself together," he said. "We had unwavering support from a lot of people."
Although the charges were dismissed, the school suspended Hoffner for 20 days and then reassigned him to an administrative role before firing him last May.
Hoffner attorney Christopher Madel, whose law firm handled the civil case for free, said someone needs to be held accountable.
"What has been done to this family … is wrong," Madel said.
Some of the reasons for the firing were outlined last week in the arbitrator’s decision obtained by The Free Press of Mankato.
According to the newspaper, the ruling said among other things that university President Richard Davenport wrote in a letter that Hoffner was being fired for viewing pornography on his work computer and for allowing his wife to use the device.
The arbitrator said Hoffner denied using his computer to view porn and several people had access to the device, so there was no proof to that allegation. There was evidence Hoffner’s wife had used the computer, but that was not grounds for termination, the arbitrator found.
Hoffner’s criminal attorney, Jim Fleming, told The Associated Press that Minnesota State was ordered to give Hoffner his pay with interest going back to when he was fired, as well as for his 20-day suspension, and to pay the difference in his salary if he decided to work elsewhere for less.
His contract at Minot State calls for him to earn $90,000 a year and runs through June 30, 2015. Hoffner said at Tuesday’s news conference that with a raise he received before his arrest, he will make about $105,000 a year at Minnesota State, Mankato, and his contract goes through June 2018.
Minot State athletic director Rick Hedberg said the school wished Hoffner the best and hoped there was closure for him and his family.
"We are disappointed that doesn’t involve Minot State," Hedberg said. He said the school will move forward quickly to find a replacement.
Hedberg has said there was nothing in Hoffner’s contract to block him from leaving, and the university had no contingency plan for that possibility.
Minot State became an NCAA Division II school in 2009, after transiting from the NAIA. The Beavers finished last season 2-9.
Minnesota State finished 11-1 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament under interim coach Aaron Keen. The Mavericks were 34-13 in Hoffner’s four seasons there, from 2008-2012. Hoffner also coached the Mavericks to three Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division championships — in 2008, 2009 and 2011.