The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

May 9, 2013

Football program thrives despite distractions

MANKATO — Some may look at this week’s news about Todd Hoffner’s firing by Minnesota State as the end of an ugly situation.

Others may see it as the beginning of a long trip through the legal system for the former football coach and the university.

But the amazing thing about the last 10 months is that the Mavericks’ football program has largely been unaffected, even thrived, when this situation could have brought it down. While the university has revealed little information about this saga, it has done a good job of shielding the football coaches and players from any of the ugliness.

Last season, the Mavericks’ players never publicly talked about the former coach, instead focusing on the preparations for each week’s game. That approach, however cliche, resulted in 13 straight victories, another Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship and a trip to the national semifinals.

Historic stuff. Could have easily been derailed by the events surrounding Hoffner’s mysterious escort from the practice field in August and the investigation into his cell-phone use.

Had last season blown up, nobody would have blamed the staff and players. Having won as they did, it should be recognized as one of the great accomplishments in the university athletics’ history.

There are folks who strongly believe that Hoffner should have been brought back, and there are those who strongly feel that the program should move forward with another coach, likely Aaron Keen. There are indications that outside financial support for the program could be threatened, though it remains to be seen.

The Mavericks just went through spring practice, with the focus on next season and not the next coach, and seemed to get the proper work done.

While the Hoffner case appears to be far from over, it would seem that the football players and coaches can look forward to the upcoming season without much distraction. The rest of the legal wrangling will be done in courtrooms, not the locker room.

Last season’s players accomplished great things, and many of those fellas are back to try to accomplish more. The fact that they were able to build such a special season, in the face of unprecedented adversity, says as much about their character as the wins and championships.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, email at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com, check out his local sports blog at www.mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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