In retrospect, the location told us everything we need to know. Former Minnesota State-Mankato head coach, and current Minot State (N.D.) head coach, announced Tuesday he will return to Mankato and reclaim his job as the Mavericks' head coach in a completely unprecedented situation. The fact that he held his announcement press conference in Minneapolis, 500 miles away from Minot State's campus and only 82 miles northeast of Mankato, was the only clue we needed.
For the uninitiated, here's a one paragraph rundown. Hoffner posted a 34-13 record in four seasons at Mankato, turning around a Mavericks program that went 4-7 in the year prior to his arrival, before he was suspended, fired and ultimately charged with child pornography after MSU officials discovered what they deemed inappropriate photos of Hoffner's children on his cell phone in August 2012. If you'd like a more detailed summary of the situation, ESPN wrote a great profile of the situation in 2013.
The charges were later dropped, and Hoffner was formally cleared of all wrongdoing. Beyond that, though, a Minnesota arbitrator ruled MSU owed Hoffner back pack pay and he was given the right to reclaim his job back. And that's where the situation got complicated.
After winning the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and the Mineral Water Bowl in 2011, MSU thrived in Hoffner's absence. The Mavericks went 13-1 and won two NCAA Division II playoff games in 2012 and then posted an undefeated regular season in 2013. Time waits for no man, and the Mavericks' team culture evolved - without Hoffner.
Hoffner was out of football for those two seasons, until Minot State hired him in January. Hoffner was prepared to move forward with the Beavers, until the Minnesota arbitrator gave him the chance to fix what once was broken.
On Tuesday, Hoffner took the arbitrator's offer. He will again become Minnesota State-Mankato's head football coach.
"I have this opportunity to go back, and I believe this is the right thing to do, for my family and myself," Hoffner said in an emotional press conference. "I believe that resuming my duties as head football coach will help heal that injury and put my family, and my family's life, back on track."
It's a choice no coach has ever had to make but, in a vacuum, it was an incredibly simple one. Minnesota State-Mankato is 33-5 over the past three seasons, while Minot State is just 7-25. The programs faced each other in 2012, and Mankato won 44-10. On top of that, Hoffner's family still lives in Mankato. His wife still works in Mankato. Again, this is a simple choice in a vacuum.
But the thing about real life is that choices are never made in a vacuum. Minot State's staff features nine coaches - and six of them are graduate assistants or student assistants. Defensive coordinator Byron Thomas is in his first season on the job and one year away from being a graduate assistant himself. Defensive line coach/strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Brunkhorst is also in his first year on the staff. Run stop coordinator Jeff Miller is in his sixth season at Minot State, but has no experience as a coordinator or head coach. And now they're without a head coach in mid-April.
"This was not an easy decision. I will remain forever grateful to Minot State," Hoffner said. "I have thoroughly enjoyed my short time there, and I wish their program nothing but success."
At Mankato, our speculation here is that interim head coach Aaron Keen will slide back to a role as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, while current offensive coordinator Jason Eck will handle just the offensive line with a new title perhaps co-offensive coordinator or run game coordinator and no change in pay. Again, this is just our speculation and we'll update when things become more clear.
Hoffner says his second first day as Minnesota State-Mankato's head coach will be tomorrow.