Todd Hoffner was a good football coach. Only a month earlier, Minnesota State University, Mankato had awarded him a new 4-year contract with a raise of more than 15%.
But on August 17, 2012, his life changed:
Hoffner had turned a malfunctioning cell phone in to the University for repair. On the phone were two short videos of his three young children as they laughed, danced, frolicked, and played in the nude after baths. In post Jerry Sandusky hysteria, university employees turned the phone over to the police.
Hoffner was placed on investigative leave. Did the University act precipitously or were they prudent to be cautious?
Then bad judgment: a few days later Hoffner was arrested on two felony counts of suspicion of producing and possessing child pornography. Has insanity become normalized, I wondered.
County human-services officials quickly determined that no sexual abuse or maltreatment of Hoffner’s children had occurred. Nothing suspicious was found on his laptop, in his home, or in extensive searches at his earlier places of employment. The County attorney refused to drop the charges.
Last November, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass dismissed the charges against Hoffner for lack of probable cause. She rebuked County prosecutors and her strongly worded order made it clear that the videos were innocent hijinks, not porn. Thank God for a brave and lucid judge.
Will the community hold the county attorney accountable for the actions that did great harm to a decent family? Remember citizens of Mankato, if you don’t stand up for the victims of power abused, who will stand up for you when you are the victim?
Did the University reinstatement Hoffner as expected?
No, administrators gave Hoffner a 20 day suspension apparently for using his university cell phone for personal use. The length of suspension appears excessive to this veteran of 18 years of labor relations experience.
Administrators then removed Hoffner from his position as coach and reassigned him to a non-job administrative position and stuck him away in a closet. Then they fired him without explanation.
What motivated the actions of University managers?
Did political enemies in the bureaucracy take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of Hoffner ─the successful coach who had just signed a 4-year contract with a big raise?
Or, did the culture of the institution drive decision-making? Protecting the institution from whatever people or situations are perceived to be threats to the image of the institution often becomes paramount in crisis and doing what is right regardless of politics and institutional embarrassment get lost entirely. Did Hoffner have to go because he brought embarrassment to the University?
It is never right to punish the victim of injustice for the embarrassment that injustice may cause a big institution.
Or, did the University investigation that came about because of false accusations and an unjust arrest lead to the discovery of new information that on its own justified an immediate termination?
We don’t know the answers to these and many other questions because University officials acted in secret behind closed doors and have shared only cold and terse written announcements. No human face speaks for the University, only a lifeless and uncaring bureaucracy.
Hoffner will challenge his firing in arbitration later this summer. If the University comes up with a reason for his discharge aside from the false allegations of peddling porn, it better be a good one. Remember, this is the coach who had just signed a new 4-year contract with a big raise. Any known issues with Hoffner from before that contract was signed are moot after the new contract effectively endorsed Hoffner fully. Will any new issues be legitimate and rise to the level needed to justify his abrupt termination or will they be concocted efforts to justify earlier bad judgments, political assassination, or the dark side of corporate culture?
The community should watch with discerning eyes.
(See ESPN interview with Todd Hoffner)