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Did Todd Hoffner Do The Right Thing?

A self-described ‘nightmare’ for Todd Hoffner ends today when he returns to Minnesota State – Mankato as the Mavericks’ football coach, nearly a year after he was fired from the job.

Hoffner’s comeback signals an end to a saga that began in August of 2012 when he was escorted off the practice field, then arrested and charged with child pornography after university staff found images of his naked children on a work-issued cellphone.

Those charges were later dismissed, but the university still suspended Hoffner for 20 days and then reassigned him to an administrative role before firing him last May.

Just last week, an arbitrator ruled the termination was unjust and that Hoffner was entitled to his job back.  The coach made his decision public at a press conference Tuesday, saying:

I believe that resuming my duties as head football coach will help heal that injury.

I’m not interested in revenge. … I’m not a spiteful person.

In a statement, Minnesota State University, Mankato President Richard Davenport said:

We have learned that Mr. Todd 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.

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.

What remains to be seen is what personnel changes, if any, are made at the University in the wake of the arbitrator’s decision. Hoffner said he is exploring all of his legal options, and attorneys would be watching to ensure university officials do not retaliate against him.

And if all that weren’t complicated enough, there’s another twist to the story.

You see, in January of this year Hoffner was hired as head coach at another Northern Sun Conference school, Minot State.  His decision to return to Mankato leaves the Beavers without a head coach just 75 days after Hoffner took the job.

Hoffner did say he would be ‘forever grateful’ to Minot State for taking a chance on him, but said there were a number of factors pulling him back to Minnesota:

My family lives there, we have roots there, I helped grow the program to a national power.

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.  Last season under interim head coach Aaron Keen , Minnesota State finished 11-1 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

As for his former employer in North Dakota, Minot State athletic director Rick Hedberg said in a statement:

We understand this is a tough situation for Todd and his family and we also understand you have to do what is best for your family, not just yourself.

We wish him all the best and hope there is some closure for him, his wife and their kids; and they can get back to a daily routine.

We are disappointed that doesn’t involve Minot State.

But, it’s clear from Hedberg’s comments that the school believes Hoffner was going to stay in Minot regardless of how things turned out with the arbitrator:

During the process we knew that Todd had an ongoing grievance with Minnesota State and we knew that there was a possibility he would be offered his job back.

He assured us that he was committed to Minot State and to starting new, and that we would be the school that not only gave him a chance to start over, but was in his long-term plans. It’s unfortunate that didn’t turn out.

Even though Hoffner was scheduled to make $15,800 less per season ($90,000 as compared to $105,800) in Minot, money was not a factor in the decision, because Minnesota State was ordered to pay the difference in his salary if he decided to work elsewhere for less.  The school also is giving Hoffner his pay with interest going back to when he was fired, as well as for his 20-day suspension.

The length of the contracts were different.  Hoffner’s deal with Minot State was good until June of next year, while his Mankato contract doesn’t expire until June of 2018.

While Minot State searches for a new head coach, former South Dakota defensive standout Byron Thomas has been named the Beavers’ interim head coach. Thomas was hired as Minot’s defensive coordinator by Hoffner in February.  He played four seasons in Vermillion, earning the Coyotes’ Defensive Most Valuable Player honor as a senior in 2008.

So did Hoffner do the right thing?  Obviously he believes that for he and his family he did, and certainly if he was never fired illegally, he more than likely would have been on the sidelines in Mankato the last two seasons.  He has the right to return if he wants.

But what’s his obligation to the people at Minot State?  They were willing to employ a coach with a considerable amount of baggage, and yet they’re the ones left holding the bag here.

Part of me says Hoffner is right to return to Mankato to show the administration there that he’s taking the high road, despite having his name, and his reputation dragged through the mud.  But another part of me says if that’s the way the university treats its’ employees, I would not want to be on the payroll.

What do you think?

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