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Mankato football coach Todd Hoffner at the Blue Earth County Justice Center in August.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Editorial: Answers needed on Mankato coach's job

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Star Tribune
  • December 29, 2012 - 4:15 PM

It's been a month since a judge threw out the dubious child porn charges against Minnesota State University, Mankato, football coach Todd Hoffner. But instead of working to remedy the injustice inflicted on Hoffner by an overzealous county prosecutor, university officials have prolonged the coach's legal nightmare by denying him a return to his head coaching job.

After a month of passive-aggressive delay on this critical employment decision, the university informed Hoffner on Friday that he had been reassigned to a job as assistant athletic director for facilities development, according to a source with knowledge of a letter sent to Hoffner by the university.

The university declined to comment Friday, and officials have yet to explain why Hoffner essentially remained on trial at the university after the court cleared him last month.

Former Minnesota legislator and speaker of the house Rod Searle, a longtime supporter of the university's athletic programs, summed up many people's concerns about the university's questionable handling of the situation.

"I've talked to a lot of people and they feel the same way, that he's being jerked around,'' said Searle, who said he has contacted the university to voice his concerns but has received little information.

Hoffner has been on paid leave from the university since August, when two brief videos of his children cavorting in towels and in the nude after a dip in the family's whirlpool tub were discovered by a university technician on the coach's university-issued cellphone. He was charged with two felony-level counts of child pornography and, if convicted, could have been imprisoned for years.

But the case against Hoffner weakened as the weeks went on. Nothing suspicious was found on his laptop, at his home or in extensive searches at his other places of employment. County human-services officials also determined that no sexual abuse or maltreatment of Hoffner's children had occurred.

In late November, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass took the unusual step of dismissing charges against Hoffner. Her 24-page ruling made it clear that the videos were innocent hijinks, not porn. Jass also sharply rebuked county prosecutors who had aggressively pursued the case for months.

It's hard not to look at the university's tone-deaf handling of Hoffner's employment since then and wonder if officials have even bothered to read Jass's ruling. The university is still treating Hoffner like he's radioactive.

University officials have declined repeatedly to comment on Hoffner's employment, citing data-privacy laws. But their actions since the ruling have done little but sow more doubts about Hoffner. Cryptic statements have also been issued by the university about internal investigations of Hoffner.

In addition, the university recently levied a costly sanction against him -- a 20-day suspension -- that appears to be related to using his university-issued cellphone to take personal videos, according to a Dec. 20 Star Tribune story. A university statement said one investigation into a complaint against Hoffner has been completed by the school, but another is "pending."

David Fortney, a Twin Cities human-resources consultant, cautioned that we don't know what else might be in Hoffner's personnel file. But Fortney also said the 20-day suspension without pay issued by the university represented "serious money. It is a very heavy sanction.''

University officials declined this week to say how many other employees might have faced similar discipline for phone use. A search of news databases suggests that discipline is rare because many employers allow for incidental personal use of work phones.

It shouldn't have been too much to expect the university to join Judge Jass in doing right by Hoffner. But for some reason administrators appear to have put a priority on pushing him out.

Hoffman's legal ordeal should have ended last month. Instead, university officials have chosen to continue it. Minnesota deserves a straight answer from the university about why this winning, well-liked coach has been punished by the university after he was cleared by the court.

© 2014 Star Tribune