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Sports

April 17, 2014

Players protest return of fired Minnesota coach

MANKATO, Minn. — The University of Minnesota-Mankato football team Wednesday boycotted the fired head coach who won his job back in an arbitrator’s ruling last week, nearly two years after fighting accusations of child pornography and other misconduct.

Todd Hoffner, 47, announced the previous day he would reclaim his old job and not continue as coach of the Minot, N.D., State College football team, a position he accepted three months ago while awaiting the arbitrator’s decision.

He said he had been a victim of the overzealous reaction to the conviction of  former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusy on numerous child sexual abuse counts two years ago. He said his old job would allow him to heal from the mental wounds of his ordeal.

But when he stepped back on the football practice field at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, only three players showed up in uniform for spring drills. The rest of the team appeared in street clothes and wearing blue-andg-gold “Maverick Football” hoodies.

Junior safety Samuel Thompson read a brief, prepared statement saying the team was unanimous in wanting interim coach Aaron Keen to remain as the head coach. The players then abruptly walked back to the team’s locker room.

Hoffner stood on the field with the team’s assistant coaches, including Keen, and athletic director Kevin Buisman during the reading.  Hoffner left the field without comment shortly after the players departed. Buisman followed the players into the locker room.

Keen, an assistant coach under Hoffner, expressed surprise at the boycott. He said he was okay with the arbitrator’s decision to reinstate Hoffner, and that he was “very happy” to continue as his assistant.

Keen was named interim coach after Hoffner was arrested in August of 2012 on child porn charges for posting to his school cellphone video of his naked young children being playful after a bath. Three months later, a judge threw out the charges, saying the images were not pornographic but rather depicted  the coach’s kids having fun.

But the school declined to reinstate Hoffner, pending an internal investigation. He was assigned to administrative duties and later fired based on the inquiry’s findings, which included accusations of visiting pornographic websites on his work computer and other misconduct allegations. The arbitrator determined the accusations were unfounded.

Keeen served as interim head coach for the two seasons Hoffner remained in limbo. In 2013, the team experienced one of  its best seasons ever, finishing 11-1 and advancing  to the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament.

Hoffner said he didn’t decide until right before a news conference at his lawyer’s office in Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon that he would return to Mankato. In tearful remarks, he said his family had ties to Mankato and  “I helped grow the program to a national power.”

Hoffner’s salary at Mankato is $108,000 annually. His contract now runs through 2018. That’s $18,000 per year more than he would have been paid at Minot State. Officials there wished Hoffner well and said they would immediately begin searching for a replacement head coach.

The Minnesota school released a statement saying it welcomed Hoffner back as head coach.

“This has been a difficult journey for all involved,” the statement said. “We extend our apologies to Mr. Hoffner and deeply regret the difficulties he and his family have experienced. ... It is our sincere hope that all concerned can now find ways to move forward.”

The players statement:

“As a collective unit, we’ve all agreed that we will stick together and show our support in having Aaron Keen as the head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“We’ve all become outstanding community members, students, athletes, in the last year and a half since the removal of Todd Hoffner.

“Throughout this process, our voice has been silent, it is time our voice is heard.

“We want information, we want answers, becausae this is our team.

“As a unit we have decided not to practice, because of the change-up in the coaching situation.

“We want Aaron Keen as the head coach.”

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

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