MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The former football coach at Minnesota State, Mankato said Tuesday that he will return to his old job this week after an arbitrator ruled he was wrongly fired and should be immediately reinstated.
Todd Hoffner, who was fired last May for reasons that were undisclosed at the time, said the decision to return wasn’t easy. His dismissal came after he had been accused, then cleared, of having pornographic images of his children on a work-issued cellphone.
"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 school. When asked why he decided to go back to Mankato, he said his answer was simple: "My family lives there, we have roots there, I helped grow the program to a national power."
He plans to resume his duties at Mankato on Wednesday.
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.
He said the charges were the "most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in my life."
"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.
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 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. He was making $101,000 at Minnesota State, school officials have said.
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.