Wednesday, May 29, 2013

MN - The Mag: False child porn allegation ends coach's career

Original Article

This world has gone friggin' MAD! This man lost his career over bath time videos and photos?

05/25/2013

By Eli Saslow

The athletic director walked onto the field unannounced, wearing jeans and sandals, and Todd Hoffner knew in that moment that something was terribly wrong. Nobody interrupted his football practices at Minnesota State Mankato without advance notice and permission. His success as head coach was based on maintaining total control; each practice was scripted to the minute. He believed small disruptions in preparation became big problems during games, so he sometimes asked his players to recite a motto: No mistakes. No distractions. No surprises.

Now, on Aug. 17, 2012, his life was about to become the story of all three.

The athletic director approached Hoffner at midfield and told the coach he wanted to speak with him privately. "What's this about?" Hoffner asked, but the athletic director simply motioned for him to follow. Only a month earlier, Hoffner had earned a new four-year contract with a raise of more than 15 percent, and he had already stated his plans to stay at Mankato for the rest of his career. Hoffner and the AD walked into an adjacent building, where a woman from the university's human resources department was waiting. She handed Hoffner a typed note on university letterhead, and he hurriedly began to read, each phrase blurring into the next. Investigative leave. Effective immediately. No longer permitted on university grounds.

"Is this a joke?" Hoffner asked. "What did I do?" The woman from HR refused to answer. She told him to leave campus immediately. She said he would learn more about the university's reasoning in the next few days.

Hoffner drove back to his house in the nearby town of Eagle Lake, his hands shaking at the steering wheel, and told his wife, Melodee, who was equally at a loss. For the next three days, he barely slept. Mel vomited from stress. Todd watched game film at midnight in the living room, seeking comfort in routine. Together they made a list of potential reasons for Hoffner's banishment. He had worked his assistant coaches 70 or 80 hours a week despite their occasional complaints about long hours. He had cussed, punished players for breaking his rules and, every once in a while, lightly grabbed a player. Did they suddenly decide you drive people too hard? his wife asked.

Some other colleagues saw Division II football as an obscure stopover on the way to bigger jobs, but not Hoffner, a farm boy from Esmond, N.D., who had started his coaching career in nine-man high school football. Now he was entering his fifth season as Mankato's head coach, earning six figures and winning division titles -- by some measures the most successful coach in the school's history. Now strangers at the grocery store stopped to congratulate him and take his picture. Now he had a house in the suburbs where a motivational poster hung in the kitchen: if you believe it, you can achieve it.

He had always wanted only one kind of life, a coach's life, and now, at age 46, he had it. There was his beautiful wife who dressed in Mankato purple, his three young kids and their tradition of Family Fun Nights on Fridays, his one free night during the offseason, when they would go to Chuck E. Cheese's, then come home to watch a movie. He was muscular, competitive and stoic. His friends considered him the model of a football coach: beloved by some assistants, feared by some administrators, but respected by almost everyone on campus.

Now he phoned the university and heard he would receive an overnight letter, which didn't show up for days. So he began to slowly disassemble the life he had built. He wanted to prepare for the worst, in case he was suspended or demoted or even fired. He called coaches at other small colleges, asking about vacant assistant positions. He canceled his golf club membership, convinced he wouldn't be able to afford it without a job.

He was about to suspend his cable on a Tuesday morning when five police cars pulled up to his house. Two officers approached the door. Hoffner greeted them outside.

"What's all this about?" Hoffner asked.

This time he got an answer, and it only confounded him more.

He was under arrest on suspicion of producing and possessing child pornography.



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