Todd Hoffner was hired as the new football coach at Minot State on Thursday, and it’s telling that the headline on the AP story that was posted on argusleader.com Thursday afternoon read ‘Coach cleared of child pornography charges to lead Minot State football team’.
It’s understandable from a newspaper standpoint. After all, a headline that read ‘Hoffner hired at Minot State’, or ‘Former MSU-Mankato coach takes over at Minot’ may not register with readers who don’t know Hoffner by name.
And the fact that the same guy who was fired from a prominent D2 job as part of a scandal (from which he was fully cleared) has been hired to lead another college football team is certainly newsworthy because of the circumstances.
But the headline crystallizes just what this scandal has done to Hoffner. This will always be attached to him. He will always be 'the coach who was charged with child porn', or ‘the coach who was fired because he took naked videos of his kids’.
And that’s a real shame.
For those that need a refresher, Hoffner was the head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, and was discovered two years ago by MSU IT to have videos on his school-issued phone of his young children dancing around naked, in what Hoffner and his lawyers called innocent and private family moments.
Perhaps because the Jerry Sandusky scandal was still fresh in everyone’s minds, however, MSU basically fired Hoffner on the spot (he was literally pulled off the field during a practice, in front of his players) and he was arrested and slapped with two felony charges of child pornography.
Despite the fact that the case against Hoffner began to fall apart — at least in the court of public opinion — as soon as details emerged, Blue Earth County prosecutors Ross Arneson and Mike Hanson vigorously tried to prove Hoffner had been ‘using his children in a sexual performance’.
Human service experts interviewed the children and determined they were being raised in a safe environment. Searches of Hoffner’s personal computer turned up no evidence of child pornography. His wife aggressively attacked the prosecution.
They still tried to take it to trial.
But Judge Krista Jass granted Hoffner’s motion to dismiss the charges before it even went to a jury. You didn’t have to read between the lines of her 24-page ruling to detect Judge Jass found it ridiculous that the case went as far as it did.
"I’m just happy to be waking up from this nightmare," Hoffner told reporters after the charges were dropped.
But so much damage was done. The headlines couldn’t be unwritten. He was out of a job. A google image search of Hoffner produces multiple images of his police mugshot in an orange jumpsuit. It’s hard to even look at that photo, knowing Hoffner had to endure that all for a misconstrued moment of private family time.
Hoffner tried to get his job back, unsuccessfully, probably in part because his replacement, Aaron Keen, led the Mavs to consecutive undefeated regular seasons as interim coach.
Hoffner had been very successful as Mavs coach before his ouster — going 34-13 in five years at the helm (which followed a stint as offensive coordinator for USD under Ed Meierkort).
The word ‘unfortunate’ doesn’t even begin to describe the whole ordeal for Hoffner and his family, but give credit to Minot State for giving Hoffner a chance to interview for the job. It would be easy to avoid him with the excuse that he has ‘too much baggage’, but I don’t really think that’s true. While people who barely pay attention to Division II football may only know Hoffner for the scandal that temporarily ruined him, my sense has been that everyone in NSIC and Division II circles are supportive of Hoffner and angry that he had to endure what he did. He told the Minot Daily News Thursday that “I think there’s a lot of people that wanted to see me succeed and wanted to see me land this position”. He’s right.
Still, a common consensus was that he’d have to go back to being an assistant, at least for awhile, because no school would be willing to take the plunge and make Hoffner the face of the program.
Enter a Minot State team that was in a tough spot. The Beavers were a pretty solid NAIA program, but since moving to Division II they’ve struggled to compete, going 3-8 and 2-9 in their first two years in the NSIC.
Their head coach Paul Rudolph, is pretty well respected, and when he left after this season to become offensive cooridnator at UND, it was hard to blame him. You had to wonder if Rudolph felt like winning in the NSIC at Minot was too tall of a task.
After all, Minot is the most far-flung school in the league and I don’t believe they’re fully-funded.
Under different circumstances, Hoffner isn’t interested in this job. In fact, when Rudolph stepped down, my first worry for Minot State was, ‘geez, who’s going to want that job?’
As it turned out, both Hoffner and former Augie coach and current Wayne State defensive coordinator Mike Aldrich applied. I’d say the Beavers are pretty lucky that two D2 playoff coaches fell into their laps as candidates.
I have my doubts that Hoffner can build the Beavers to the same level the Mavericks have reached, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make them competitive. He’s already given Minot administration some requests as far as staffing and funding to get them where they need to get as quickly as possible.
Aldrich would’ve been a good hire, too, and from a personal standpoint I was pulling for Mike to get the job.
But it’s impossible not to be happy for Hoffner, too.
I’ve only met him a couple times, and honestly I didn’t even find him to be particularly likeable.
But he’s undoubtedly an excellent football coach. And thanks to an overly paranoid MSU-Mankato administration and overly zealous prosecution, that career was destroyed. It’s fair to assume that Hoffner’s life was more or less ruined for the last two years as well.
He got to start rebuilding that life after the case was thrown out. Now Minot State is giving Hoffner a chance to rebuild his career. It’s impossible not to root for him.
I wish him the best of luck.