Todd Hoffner worried that he might never coach again. Even after a judge dismissed child pornography charges, the former Minnesota State University, Mankato, football coach wondered if he’d get another shot.
His two-year sideline hiatus ended Thursday, when Minot State named him its new coach.
“It took a lot of guts for Minot State to do what they did and I’m not going to let them down,” Hoffner said in a phone interview. “I’m grateful they thought enough of me to give me a second chance.”
Hoffner, 47, was arrested in 2012, and eventually demoted and fired, after images of his three children, then ages 5 to 9, were discovered on his university-issued cellphone after a bath at his family’s home. A judge later ruled the images were innocent child’s play, dropping the charges — but not before it upended his career.
Aaron Keen, a former Hoffner assistant, took over the team in 2012 and led the Mavericks to the NCAA Division II semifinals. Keen is still officially the interim head coach. Hoffner was reassigned to an assistant athletic director’s job and later fired.
“I have not seen him happy in almost two years,” said Melodee Hoffner, the coach’s wife and a guidance counselor at Mankato East High School.
Hoffner said his son, the second of their kids, “was the most excited of anyone.”
“I found it refreshing that he can look at his dad again and his dad didn’t have to tell him he was on sabbatical anymore,” the coach said.
As parents, he said, “we pulled the wool over his eyes a little bit and didn’t let them know much of what was transpiring.”
Hoffner drove out to North Dakota on Wednesday, negotiating his deal by phone after the job was offered. But the short notice and snowy weather prevented his family from joining him at Minot State’s news conference.
“It has been quite a challenge for my family,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot and we’re looking forward to this new chapter in our lives. We want to move on.”
Melodee said her husband had applied for dozens of football coaching jobs, but even old colleagues wouldn’t invite him to work at football camps last summer.
“These are his friends and people he’s been coaching with for years,” she said. “No one would even let him be part of camps, except a one-day youth camp in Wisconsin.”
Todd Hoffner said “that’s all water under the bridge,” but his wife did have some parting words for Mankato university officials and Blue Earth County authorities.
“My hope for all the institutions involved — MSU, Blue Earth County law enforcement and the prosecuting office — is that hopefully it will come to a point where they understand that they clearly need more training,” she said, “so they don’t harm other families but also so they can help the kids who actually need it.”
Blue Earth County prosecutor Mike Hanson failed to return phone calls seeking reaction to Hoffner’s new position.
Hoffner’s union grievance against Minnesota State, Mankato, is still pending. His attorney, Jim Fleming, recently filed expungement paperwork to have his court file sealed. His Bureau of Criminal Apprehension file was destroyed after his case was dismissed.
“I’m elated for him,” Fleming said. “Todd felt pessimistic and was really down, thinking that maybe he’d never coach again. I always felt he had talents and skills that people would want.”
Minnesota State, Mankato, spokesman Dan Benson declined to discuss Hoffner’s case, citing state data privacy laws. He said the school will eventually conduct a national search before the “interim” tag would be removed from Keen’s job title.
“We’d just like to wish Todd Hoffner the best in his new opportunity,” Benson said.
Melodee Hoffner said that throughout the family’s nightmarish ordeal, plenty of people stood by them.
“Despite everything, there are not words to describe our gratitude to all the people in Mankato and outside who supported us,” she said.