MANKATO — As Todd Hoffner walked from the parking lot toward the Minnesota State football offices around noon Wednesday, he ran into Darius Claire, who will be a senior tight end this fall.
"He gave me a big hug and welcomed me back," said Hoffner, sporting his Minnesota State jacket. "That made me feel good. I don't know if every person will feel that way."
The Hoffner Era, Part 2, began Wednesday when he returned to Minnesota State, almost a year after he was fired. He was back in charge of the football program for the first time since being escorted off the practice field in August 2012, when the investigation began into the use of his university-issued cellphone to create child pornography. Charges were later dismissed by a judge.
But he was in professional limbo until January, when he was hired to be the football coach at Minot State, a job he held until Tuesday when he announced he would return to his position at Minnesota State. That job choice surfaced when an arbitration ruling last week determined Minnesota State improperly suspended, reassigned and fired Hoffner.
On Wednesday, it was like his first day at the school in 2008, meeting with athletic department officials, signing a contract and retracing the steps to his office.
"It feels refreshing to be back on campus," he said. "The campus is very vibrant and alive. It's a great feeling to walk these hallways again."
Hoffner plans to observe practice Wednesday afternoon with the majority of the players he helped recruit to Minnesota State and others who had not had contact with Hoffner until Wednesday. He said he's going to re-enter the program "one day at a time."
"Like any coach, my job is to treat the student-athletes with respect and provide some consistency, as far as this is my coach and this is how we do things," he said. "You try to help these young men become better athletes, better students and better people. I want to absorb as much as I can and try to help make us better."