MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The football coach fired from Minnesota State, Mankato announced Tuesday that he will return to the job after an arbitrator ruled he was wrongfully terminated, saying the decision wasn't easy but that it would help him and his family heal.
Todd Hoffner was fired last May for reasons undisclosed at the time. But the dismissal came after he was cleared of child pornography charges stemming from images of his children on a work-issued cellphone, accusations that Hoffner called the "most ridiculous things I've ever heard in my life."
"I believe that resuming my duties as head football coach will help heal that injury," he said during a tearful news conference in which he took several breaks to compose himself. He said the last two years have been a "nightmare," but that he always wanted to coach at Minnesota State, Mankato.
"I'm not interested in revenge. ... I'm not a spiteful person," he said, but added that the situation could have been handled differently.
Hoffner was hired in January as head coach at Minot State, and he said he would be "forever grateful" to the North Dakota school for hiring him when he thought he might never coach again. But he said he decided to go back to Mankato for simple reasons.
"My family lives there, we have roots there, I helped grow the program to a national power," he said.
He plans to resume his duties in Mankato on Wednesday.
Hoffner, 47, was escorted off the practice field in August 2012, then arrested and charged with child pornography after university staff found images of his naked children on a work-issued cellphone. But a judge dismissed the charges three months later, saying the videos depicted only innocent images of children acting playful after a bath.
His supporters said the school overreacted in the wake of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State, noting his high-profile arrest came just months after retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of child sex abuse.
"Two years ago I sat in a jail cell overnight in an orange jumpsuit wondering why. First there was shock, then there was fear, then there was anger and ... I pulled myself together," Hoffner said Tuesday. "We had unwavering support from a lot of people."
Although the charges were dismissed, the school suspended Hoffner for 20 days and then reassigned him to an administrative role before firing him last May.
Hoffner said he views his return as a chance to renew old relationships. When asked if he was nervous to go back into an environment where he was wrongly accused, he said any awkwardness would pale in comparison to what he has already been through.
"I can handle it," he said.
The university released a statement welcoming Hoffner back as head coach.
"We extend our apologies to Mr. Hoffner and deeply regret the difficulties he and his family have experienced," the statement said. "It is our sincere hope that all concerned can now find ways to move forward."
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