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The boycott is over. A day after refusing to practice to protest a coaching change, the Minnesota State-Mankato football players have agreed to accept Todd Hoffner's return as head coach.
"As a team, we are ready to get back to playing football," junior defensive back Samuel Thompson said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. "We stand behind our actions and statement made, but in no way did we want our actions to undermine coach Hoffner's return. ... We look forward to coming back to the practice field Friday."
The players had a nearly two-hour meeting Thursday with Hoffner, interim coach Aaron Keen and athletics director Kevin Buisman. Hoffner characterized it as a "productive discussion."
"It was a great, healthy conversation," Hoffner told USA TODAY Sports. "We're moving forward with a united front."
Hoffner reclaimed his job Tuesday, almost 20 months after he was suspended amid an investigation into allegations of child pornography. A judge dismissed felony charges in November2012, exonerating Hoffner, but he was reassigned to an administrative role by the school and then fired last May. Last week an arbitrator ruled he was wrongly fired and said he could return to his job with back pay.
Hoffner, who had been hired at Minot (N.D.) State, announced Tuesday that he would return to Mankato. That meant displacing Keen, who had been the offensive coordinator under Hoffner.
In Keen's two seasons as interim head coach, the Mavericks went 24-2 and reached the NCAA Division II playoffs twice, building on Hoffner's success. In four seasons, he took a losing program and went 34-13, including a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship in 2011.
Hoffner returned to campus Wednesday and was ready to oversee a practice. The players showed up about five minutes later wearing street clothes. Thompson read a statement saying the team was united and wanted Keen to be the head coach.
"Throughout this process," Thompson said, "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."
As Thompson read the statement, Hoffner moved closer to hear. He said he was taken by surprise by the boycott.
"I tried to listen and understand," he said, "trying to figure out what the purpose of it was. They wanted to be heard and wanted to know that they're a part of this process and that they have a voice."
Immediately after the players left practice, they met with Buisman and agreed to meet again Thursday morning with Buisman, Hoffner, Keen and the other coaches.
Hoffner said several players expressed "sympathy or empathy" for what he had been through, but added, "They're young men. They want to know what it means for them, and I can understand that."