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Sports

April 12, 2014

Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota State University-Mankato officials wrongly accused former football coach Todd Hoffner of viewing pornography sites on his work computer before firing him last May, a state arbitrator has disclosed.

Arbitrator Gerald Wallin concluded that university officials also unjustly accused Hoffner of causing campus concern for bringing his young children into the team’s locker room while players were partially unclothed, and for having a picture of a nude male on his school-issued cellphone.

Wallin said these were reasons given by university President Richard Davenport for firing Hoffner even though a judge dismissed child pornography charges against him for taking video images on his school cellphone of his kids dancing in the nude after taking a bath at home.

The arbitrator said the only misstep Hoffner could have been disciplined for was allowing his wife to have access to his work computer – a violation of school rules that warranted an oral reprimand at most, he added.

Details of the arbitrator’s investigation and findings were contained in a 72-page confidential report on Hoffner’s challenge to his demotion and later widely-publicized dismissal by the university. The report was briefly posted Thursday to the public website of the state Bureau of Mediation Service, and obtained there by the Mankato Free Press.

The arbitrator’s decision that the university had no just cause to fire Hoffner was publicly announced, as was the remedy to the school’s action: Reinstatement of Hoffner with back pay to his head coaching position.

Hoffner is scheduled to hold a news conference Tuesday to announce whether he will return to his old job or retain the head football coach position he was appointed to at Minot, N.D., State University in January.

If he stays put, the arbitrator ruled the Mankato school must pay him the difference between his North Dakota salary of $90,000 per year and his Minnesota compensation of $101,190 through 2016, when his contract would have expired.

Hoffner was removed as head coach in Mankato in August of 2012 when the nude video images of his kids were discovered on his cellphone by an IT technician repairing it. School officials alerted prosecutors and Hoffner was arrested and charged with two counts of creating child pornography. A judge determined the charges were groundless and threw out the criminal complaint in November of 2012. He said the videos were not sexual in nature or pornographic but rather showed Hoffner’s children “dancing and acting playful after a bath.”

But the school did not reinstate Hoffner to the head football position, reassigning him instead to administrative duties in the athletic department and moving him into a small office across campus from the football facilities.

In the meantime, the university conducted an internal investigation that included checking his work computers for any evidence of misdeeds and reviewing his personal conduct.

The computer scrub turned up links and visits to pornographic websites, and evidence that the coach’s wife also had also used the computer in her job as a high school guidance counselor and graduate student. The investigation also turned up four photos of a nude man on Hoffner’s cellphone.

But the arbitrator said Hoffner’s work computer had not been cleaned of previous use by his predecessor, that several people had access to the computer, including assistant coaches, and there was no evidence Hoffner had accessed porn sites.

Dismissed as not credible were the nude male photos. The arbitrator said they were “benign” and did not focus on the genitals. He also said they were so blurry it was difficult to determine if the pictures were of the same man.

The arbitrator said there are conflicting reports about when Hoffner’s children were in the football team’s locker room, and whether other coaches also allowed their children to visit the locker room. In any event, he concluded, during Hoffner’s four years as head coach, none of his players or anyone else objected  to the university about the matter even though there was a mechanism to do so.

Hoffner’s grueling battle with the university was the subject of an in-depth report on ESPN last January. He described his life in that interview and others as “a year and a half of hell.”

Details for this story were provided by the Mankato, Minn.,  Free Press.

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