The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 20, 2014

Spear column: Hoffner case tested first and right rules

The biggest news stories are usually the ones that carry the most risk. You risk getting it wrong and getting it last. And if you’re not careful about getting it right, getting it first doesn’t really matter.

These stories test a news organization’s patience and intensity in a competitive environment that has been on steroids with the advent of social media.

So it becomes a little tense when the biggest story of the year comes across in the form of a 72-page court document and the competition already has something up — however short on details — on their website.

Welcome to the saga of MSU football coach Todd Hoffner. For two years, the story has unfolded with more unpredictable twists and turns than any that have been through the giant rollers of the web press that occupies three stories of The Free Press building.

It started with a strange report of the coach suddenly leaving the practice field, which we reported as a brief without much further detail. It moved to a police arrest at Hoffner’s Eagle Lake residence in August of 2012 and charges of child pornography. A lengthy charging and court process continued with side investigations along the way.

The first chapter ended with the dismissing of charges in November 2012 by Blue Earth County Court Judge Krista Jass, who determined the videos on Hoffner’s university-issued cell phone were innocent pictures of his children at bath time, not child pornography.

The second chapter started with Hoffner’s reinstatement at Minnesota State University but not as football coach. Assistant coach Aaron Keen had taken over that role. The university put Hoffner in another administrative role and subsequently fired him.

The third chapter started when Hoffner appealed the firing and ended with a ruling last week that the university was wrong to re-assign and fire Hoffner. The 72-page ruling required he be given his job back or the university pay the difference between that job and a job he recently took as football coach for Minot State in North Dakota.

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