Hoffner returns to MSU-Mankato

MINNEAPOLIS – Before the Todd Hoffner era ever really began, it drew to an abrupt close.

During a press conference Tuesday, Hoffner, who spent the past 2 1/2 months as Minot State’s head football coach, announced he will return to Minnesota State-Mankato to be reinstated as the Mavericks’ coach.

His departure proved as surprising as his Jan. 30 arrival, when Minot State ended Hoffner’s eight-monthlong unemployment by offering him a lifeline: another job in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

“This was not an easy decision,” Hoffner said with his wife, Melodee, and lawyers Chris Madel and Jim Fleming seated beside him. “I will remain forever grateful to Minot State. Their willingness to take a chance on me will never be forgotten.”

Hoffner’s decision stems from an arbitrator’s April 9 ruling that the newly hired Minot State coach had been wrongfully fired from MSU-Mankato in May 2013. At that moment, the door that so swiftly closed on him nearly a year ago reopened.

“We were elated when we got the news,” Melodee Hoffner said. “When you go through something like this, you hope that people will make the kind of decisions that were made.”

In August 2012, Todd Hoffner was arrested and charged with possessing and producing child pornography. But the charges were dropped by the Blue Earth County (Minn.) judge, Krista J. Jass, three months later. The cellphone videos in question, of his three children, were deemed harmless.

Still, the university eventually fired him.

Following his dismissal, Hoffner filed a labor grievance with the Bureau of Mediation Services. During the 11-month waiting game, he applied for numerous coaching positions – including the head coach job at the University of North Dakota – before landing at Minot State.

During his introductory press conference, he pledged to “bleed red and green.”

“I’ll be as loyal as you can get,” Hoffner said.

That was 75 days and seven spring practice sessions before he elected to return to MSU-Mankato, where he compiled 34 wins and 13 losses from 2008-11.

Mankato is where he won an NSIC title and two NSIC South Division championships.

Instead of trying his hand at rebuilding a Minot State program that went 2-9 in 2013 and is 7-25 the past three years, he retreated to the upper echelon of NSIC football overnight.

“This is what I wanted from Day 1, and now I have this opportunity to go back,” Hoffner said. “I believe it’s the right thing to do for my family and for myself.”

Minot State Athletic Director Rick Hedberg said that when he hired Hoffner, he was well aware of the possibility he might receive the opportunity to be reinstated at MSU-Mankato. But Hedberg never expected him to leave.

“He gave me his word on more than one occasion that he was going to be here,” Hedberg told The Minot Daily News. “I took him for his word.”

Hoffner kept his decision close to his chest. He said it wasn’t concrete until 20 minutes before the 3 p.m. press conference held at Madel’s law firm, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.C.

Like local and national media, Hedberg could shed little light on whether or not Minot State would have a football coach today.

Hedberg received notice from Hoffner via email around 2:45 p.m. Most of Minot State’s players assembled in their MSU Dome locker room to watch a live video stream where they learned of their coach’s decision.

“A lot of emotions were running through everybody’s head at that moment,” said two-year starting quarterback Zac Cunha, a rising junior. “It was unfortunate that happened.

“It’s his decision and I respect that. He did what’s best for his family. Now we can start moving forward.”

The moving-forward process comes at a rather difficult time for Minot State. The Beavers are nearly midway through their spring practice period. Their eighth of 15 spring practices is scheduled for Thursday. The Beavers spring game is still set for May 2. Defensive coordinator Byron Thomas, who was hired by Hoffner in February, will serve as interim head coach.

“I wish I didn’t have to make this decision, and I hope everyone understands the timing was not of my choosing,” Hoffner said.

Hedberg plans to use the same applicant pool he selected Hoffner from when he searched for someone to replace former Beavers coach Paul Rudolph, who resigned Jan. 2 to accept the offensive coordinator position at UND. He expects to name a new head coach in the next two weeks.

“We’re going to move it real fast,” Hedberg said.

Despite the troublesome result for Minot State, Hedberg was quick to “wish (Hoffner) the best moving forward.”

He didn’t hide his disappointment either. He feels for his players. They never got a goodbye.

“If there is one person in my career that I know has a 100-percent right to be selfish under these circumstances, it’s Todd Hoffner,” Madel said.

Today, Hoffner said he’ll return to his office at MSU-Mankato, and Minot State begins a search for its 20th head coach in program history.

“You don’t necessarily think you’re going to go through this when you sign your national letter of intent,” Cunha said. “But we’re moving forward and it’ll be all right.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.