The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 15, 2012

Mavericks navigate difficult season effectively


— It’s been an unusual football season at Minnesota State, and that’s without mentioning the first undefeated regular season.

The head coach was suspended before the season began, allowing an interim coach, using the same players, to win a conference championship and earn the No. 1 seed in the region playoffs. It’s been an exciting three months, but it’s about to get tricky, on and off the field.

No matter who the Mavericks face Nov. 24 in the region semifinals and beyond, it will be the best team they’ve faced this season. With a stout defensive line and powerful offensive line, the Mavericks are built to win playoff games, but as was the case here three years ago in a playoff loss to Hillsdale, a couple of bounces can determine the winner in such a high-level game.

The Mavericks have playmakers on offense, and the entire defense has been outstanding, as witnessed by a historically good unit not having the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s defensive player of the year. Minnesota State will be the favorite in any regional game, but that margin won’t be expansive.

Off the field, it’s starting to get a little tricky. Coach Todd Hoffner will likely go on trial sometime in early 2013, unless his case is dismissed. If that happens, or he’s acquitted, he could want his job back at Minnesota State, though a decision might not happen until late in the recruiting process or after the spring signing date.

Hoffner has been successful, posting a 34-13 record in four seasons with two NCAA appearances, one Northern Sun championship, three South Division titles and a Mineral Water Bowl victory.

And he was the man in charge when the current team was recruited to Minnesota State.

But interim coach Aaron Keen has taken a potentially season-wrecking situation and led this team to 11 straight victories.

Keen had previous head-coaching experience, but his ability, along with top assistants, to overcome the early obstacles has been impressive.

Keen’s name has already come up in connection with Augustana’s head-coaching job, which opened this week.

As other coaches are fired during this offseason, an athletic director should be very interested in Keen, whose personality on the field and in the media room is both professional and engaging.

That’s not to say that Keen is interested in moving, should Hoffner return to the head-coaching position, but Keen will certainly have opportunities.

Losing programs always seem to have issues, but it’s not always easy to be the top dog, either.

The team has played well enough to earn a big bull’s-eye from every opponent, and the interim coach has performed well enough to catch the eye of another employer, should the former head coach get an opportunity to return to his office.

It’s been an unusual football season at Minnesota State, and it’s about to get more tricky.

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