MANKATO, Minn. — Football players at Minnesota State, Mankato, refused to practice for their former head coach on Wednesday, greeting his reinstatement by an arbitrator by demanding that the interim coach keep the top job.
Todd Hoffner returned to campus for the first time since the arbitrator ruled he was fired unfairly last year in the wake of a child porn investigation that ultimately cleared him.
Mavericks players came out for spring practice Wednesday afternoon but were not in uniform, The Free Press of Mankato reported. They read a statement saying they were unanimous in wanting Aaron Keen to remain as head coach.
“We’ve all become outstanding community members, students and athletes in the last year and a half since the removal of Todd Hoffner,” said the statement, which junior safety Sam Thompson read aloud. “Throughout this process, we have been silent. It is time our voice is heard.”
Thompson said the players “want answers, because this is our team,” according to the MSU Reporter, a student publication.
“As a unit we have decided not to practice, because of the change-up in the coaching situation,” he said.
Keen gave a brief statement saying the football program was bound by the arbitrator’s ruling and that Hoffner is the head coach.
Athletic director Kevin Buisman said in a statement that players had “shared their concerns.” He said a meeting was scheduled for Thursday between the players, Hoffner, Keen and the rest of the coaching staff.
Under interim coach Keen, Minnesota State finished 11-1 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament. But they were also successful under Hoffner: 34-13 in his four seasons from 2008-12.
Hoffner was arrested in 2012 over images of his children on a university-issued cellphone. Though he was eventually cleared by a judge who described the images as innocent pictures of children acting playful after a bath, the school subsequently suspended, reassigned and fired him for reasons that weren’t made public at the time. The arbitrator’s report said Hoffner was accused of viewing porn on his work computer and letting his wife use the device, and neither charge was proven.
Hoffner, 47, accepted the head coaching job at Minot State University in January, and the arbitrator’s order that he be reinstated forced him to choose. He said Tuesday he would go back to Mankato, saying it would “help heal that injury.”
His supporters said the school overreacted in the wake of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State, noting his high-profile arrest came just months after retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of child sex abuse.
The university said in a statement Tuesday that it welcomed Hoffner back and also apologized to him.
Earlier Wednesday, Hoffner told the Free Press it felt refreshing to be back on campus. He said he got a big hug from senior tight end Darius Claire as he walked into the football offices before practice.
“That made me feel good. I don’t know if every person will feel that way,” said Hoffner, sporting his Minnesota State jacket.