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At 3:29 p.m. CT Wednesday, Todd Hoffner walked onto the football practice field at Minnesota State Mankato for the first time since August2012. Hoffner was accompanied by athletics director Kevin Buisman.
It was a nice piece of symmetry, since Buisman had escorted Hoffner off the field and away from a practice all those months ago, then informed the Mavericks head coach he was being placed on suspension. It was the start of a 20-month saga that was supposed to end Wednesday, when Hoffner finally resumed his duties.
But closure hasn't arrived.
A few minutes after the coach's return, several dozen players walked across the street -- most clad in purple hoodies, none wearing practice gear -- to announce they were boycotting practice. Junior defensive back Samuel Thompson read a prepared statement saying the Mavericks players wanted interim coach Aaron Keen to continue in the head coaching role.
"Throughout this process our voice has been silenced. It's time our voice was heard. We want information, we want answers, because this is our team. As a unit we have decided not to practice because of the changeup in the coaching situation."
Four days after he was suspended by the school in 2012, Hoffner was arrested on felony child pornography charges because naked videos of his children were found on a school-issued cellphone. Although he was exonerated -- a judge dismissed the charges in November 2012 -- Hoffner was reassigned to an administrative role in December 2012 and fired last May.
He didn't get his job back until an arbitrator ruled last week that he was wrongly fired and must be reinstated if he wanted the job back. In an emotional news conference Tuesday in Minneapolis, Hoffner announced he would leave a job at Minot State -- he had taken it in January -- and return to Mankato.
"I wish I didn't have to make this decision, and I hope everyone understands the timing was not of my choosing," Hoffner said then, adding, "From Day 1, I wanted my job back."
That meant displacing Keen, who was the offensive coordinator under Hoffner. In two seasons while Keen was interim head coach, the Mavericks went 24-2 and reached the NCAA Division II playoffs twice. Wednesday, Keen told news reporters he was happy working at Minnesota State Mankato.
An hour before practice was supposed to start, Hoffner walked down a hall inside the school's athletics facility and said it had been an interesting and good day.
"People have been very good to me," he said.
When he walked with Buisman out to the practice field, wearing a black Minnesota State-Mankato cap and rain gear, Hoffner greeted several reporters with a smile. "Afternoon, everybody," he said.
From nearby speakers, a big bass beat blared. The song was Conflict, by the group Disturbed.
Moments later, the conflict resumed.
As Thompson spoke, Hoffner walked over to hear what he said. He returned to the middle of the practice field and spoke with assistant coaches for a few moments before leaving the field and returning to the football offices.
Later Wednesday, Buisman met alone with the players. Paul Allan, the assistant athletics director for communications, said Buisman, Hoffner, Keen and the rest of the coaching staff plan to meet with players today.