Former Minnesota State University, Mankato head football coach Todd Hoffner is returning to the job, and the life, he lost two years ago.
Fighting tears, Hoffner told a throng of reporters Tuesday that he would be leaving his new post at Minot State to return to the head coaching job at Mankato, the university that fired him — wrongly, an arbitrator ruled last week — after he was cleared of all suspicion that videos he shot of his young children at bath time were some sort of child pornography.
In the end, Hoffner said, returning to work at Minnesota State is what he wanted all along. All he hoped to get out of the ordeal, he said, is a whistle and a hat that says “Mavericks.”
“I’m a football coach,” said Hoffner, flanked by his wife, Melodee, and his attorneys. “I intend to resume my duties tomorrow at Minnesota State University, Mankato and Mavericks football. From here on out, I hope that I only have to talk at news conferences about the Mavericks football team and our success.”
The announcement brought Hoffner full circle, after two harrowing years that began when university staff found videos on his work phone of his three children, then ages 5 to 9 years old, dancing and performing skits after a bath in the family’s whirlpool tub. The videos set off a chain reaction that led to Hoffner being charged with two counts of child pornography — charges a judge threw out as baseless, calling the home movies innocent.
Still, the university decided to suspend, then fire, Hoffner.
“Two years ago, I sat in a jail cell overnight, in an orange jumpsuit, wondering why,” Hoffner said. “First there was shock, then there was fear, then there was anger, then ultimately I pulled myself together to work toward results, and that’s where we are today. … I feared that I’d never get to do what I love to do, which is coach football, ever again.”
It was a difficult decision to leave Minot, where Hoffner has family and where the university had stepped up to welcome him after Mankato let him go.
Although Hoffner has been coaching at the North Dakota school for the past two months, his wife and children were still in Mankato, factoring in to his decision.
“My family lives there, we have roots there, I helped grow the program to a national power,” he said.
He hopes that returning to his old job will be the first step in helping his family heal.
As of the news conference, no one at the university had ever apologized, he said. That apology came an hour later, in the form of a brief news release issued by university officials.
“We have learned that Mr. Hoffner intends to return to Minnesota State Mankato tomorrow, and we welcome him back to his position as head football coach. This has been a difficult journey for all involved,” the statement said.
The news release concluded: “We extend our apologies to Mr. Hoffner and deeply regret the difficulties he and his family have experienced this past year and a half. It is our sincere hope that all concerned can now find ways to move forward for the sake of the Hoffner family, student athletes, the university, and the community.”
Hoffner, who said he is “not a vindictive and spiteful person,” said he didn’t want to force an apology out of the school. His legal team, however, wanted an apology and more.
“Todd’s not a spiteful person. I am,” said attorney Christopher Madel, whose law firm handled the case for free. “Somebody needs to be held accountable for this … What has been done to this family … is wrong.”
Arbitrator backs coach
Madel said he would also like to see the Legislature look into the case and the taxpayer dollars that were spent prosecuting a father’s home video of his children.
Those videos came to light in the charged atmosphere that followed the conviction of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on multiple charges of child sex abuse. Some of the university’s reasoning behind the firing came to light last week, in the arbitrator’s decision obtained by the Free Press of Mankato.
According to the newspaper, university President Richard Davenport wrote that Hoffner was being fired for viewing pornography on his work computer and for allowing his wife to use the device.
But 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 will be trading a $90,000-a-year coaching job at Minot State for a six-figure salary at Minnesota State. He said that in addition to his $105,000 salary, he will be entitled to back pay and his contract will be extended by two years to run through 2018.
In a statement, Minot State athletic director Rick Hedberg said the school wished Hoffner the best and hoped there was closure for him.
“We are disappointed that doesn’t involve Minot State,” Hedberg said. He said the school will move forward quickly to find a replacement.
Asked whether he would be nervous about walking back onto the MSU campus on Wednesday, Hoffner smiled.
“If you went through what I went through in the last 20 months, nothing would make you nervous,” he said. “It’s going to pale in comparison to what I went through.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.