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Mankato players agree to play for Hoffner

By Joseph Denton

Special to Forum News Service

MANKATO, Minn. — It’s time to start playing football at Minnesota State University-Mankato.

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That was the message from Maverick players Thursday, a day after most of them refused to practice for newly reinstated head coach Todd Hoffner, saying they wanted acting head coach Aaron Keen to remain.

The players met Thursday morning with coaches and athletic director Kevin Buisman, and all of their concerns and questions were resolved, they said.

“As a team, we are ready to get back to playing football,” said junior safety Sam Thompson.

On Wednesday, Thompson read a statement from players saying in part, “We want Aaron Keen as the head coach.”

But at a news conference Thursday afternoon, both Thompson and Buisman apologized and welcomed the return of Hoffner, who was fired last May.

“Undoubtedly it’s been a difficult time for everyone involved, including for our football program, the student-athletes, coach Keen and many others. But no one suffered more than Todd and his family, and with that I want to offer my very sincere and heartfelt apology to that,” Buisman said.

The players also tried to clarify their intentions in deciding not to suit up Wednesday for Hoffner’s first day back.

“We stand behind our actions and statement made, but in no way did we want our actions to undermine Coach Hoffner’s return,” Thompson said.

The two-hour meeting Thursday was enough for every party to agree to resume spring practice this afternoon.

“I think that everybody that’s up here in front of you today is committed to working together through a complex, dynamic and very challenging situation,” Buisman said a the news conference.

Hoffner, who was fired by the university over pornography allegations, announced Tuesday that he would return Mankato, where he had coached for four seasons. An arbitrator’s ruling that he was fired improperly made his return possible.

Hoffner was fired for allegedly viewing pornography or allowing someone else to view pornography on his university-issued computers. The arbitrator ruled those were not firing offenses.

He had been hired by Minot State University in January.

Maverick players were concerned about coach Hoffner being able to adapt to the new culture that coach Keen brought to the program, but after one day, Hoffner said he already knew about the culture shift.

“It’s clear there has been a shift in the culture, and I look forward to adapting and integrating many of those positive changes into my leadership of the program and pursuit of the ultimate goal of winning a national championship,” Hoffner said.

The biggest concern the players had Wednesday was how involved coach Keen will be in the future. It was decided that he will resume his position as assistant head coach and be the offensive coordinator. Hoffner said Keen “more than likely” will be calling offensive plays from the sideline for the 2014 season.

Hoffner described his working relationship with Keen as a very positive.

“The relationship we had before I was removed from the field is the one we want to get back to in moving the program forward,” Hoffner said.

MSU-Mankato, a Division II school, was 11-1 under Keen last fall and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Hoffner compiled a 34-13 record in his four seasons. He coached MSU-Mankato to playoff appearances in 2008 and 2009.

Before Thursday’s news conference, Keen was interviewed by KTOE Radio.

“I told our players that there are some things I can control, and other things that I can’t,” Keen told KTOE. “Right now, I’m appreciative that I have a job. I truly love coaching the players we have in this program.”

Denton writes for The Reporter, the campus newspaper at Minnesota State University-Mankato