Two years after Todd Hoffner was escorted off the Mankato practice field in the midst of child pornography charges, the husband and father of three is once again getting the Minnesota State University Mavericks ready for the football season.
Fall practice kicked off Thursday, the Mankato Free Press reports, with the usual football storylines: Four starting offensive linemen are back; there's an opening at kicker after a graduation; a quarterback battle looms.
And orchestrating it all is Hoffner, the successful head coach who has faced a lengthy legal and personal battle in an attempt to clear his name.
“There is no choice,” Hoffner recently told the Star Tribune, “but to come back and face anyone and everyone.”
In August of 2012, Hoffner was arrested and placed on administrative leave after videos of his naked children were discovered on his work-issued cellphone. The then-46-year-old faced child pornography charges, but they were dismissed a few months later.
Even after Hoffner was cleared in the criminal investigation, he was not reinstated as the head football coach. Instead he was reassigned within the Minnesota State Athletic Department. He was suspended again then eventually fired from the new position.
A year after the initial allegations, Hoffner entered into arbitration with the university. In April of 2014, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the former coach – so Hoffner got his job back, vacating the head coaching position he had accepted at Minot State, and putting the coach who replaced him at MSU, Aaron Keen, in a difficult spot.
When Hoffner returned for spring practice in April, his players initially refused to play for him citing support for Keen.
Keen had stepped into the open head coaching spot after Hoffner was taken away, and in two years guided the team to a 24-2 regular season record.
Current Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen was a senior on the Mavericks for Keen's first season.
The Minnesota native told ESPN's Ben Goessling it was tough to watch the saga unfold after he left for the pros.
"You want the program to do well," he said. "I'm just looking forward to the season this year. I just want them to perform well, and I don't want any distractions for them."
Keen is now an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan University. Hoffner told the Star Tribune he hasn't spoken to Keen since he left for the Eagles.
In the paper's thorough story about Hoffner's return, the head coach details the struggles his family faced.
And since returning, there is an "elephant in the room," he acknowledged, one he's tried to address head-on with his players. He's also tweaked his style a little bit, eliminating the swearing he was known for, and loosening some of the rules.
But on Thursday, as purple-clad Mavericks ran through drill after drill, Hoffner sounded focused on the one thing that's been constant: football.
"The energy, effort and enthusiasm was outstanding today," Hoffner told the Mankato Free Press. "They were very focused, and it looked like they were having fun."
The team's first game is Sept. 4 against St. Cloud State.