The head coach’s dedication to the game has sculpted a winning team
Serious calm. That is the first thing that strikes you when sitting across from the head coach of the Minnesota State Mavericks football team, Todd Hoffner.
Stashed in his office, it takes one look at the space that success is not some word thrown around by the coach on recruiting trips or in locker rooms. The desk and shelves are adorned with accolades, marking the results of the coach’s guidance, proof of what he has down with the program. Season after season of conference titles and championship runs a reminder that goals are not set to be forgotten but accomplished. On his desk sits a championship ring, holding down scouting reports and recruiting papers. It is the perfect metaphor for the coach himself: accomplishments greeted with the constant work for the future of the team. On the wall behind the desk chair, a massive poster of the players who went on to the next level and made NFL rosters. An apt reminder to players and recruits of what can be achieved, even at a Division II school, if the proper work ethic meets talent.
It all leads up to the man himself, Todd Hoffner, the architect of the football team. Sitting across from Hoffner, there is no mistaking him for anything but a football coach. Donning the team’s purple and gold, Hoffner sits forward in his chair with a quiet intensity, which is softened by his smooth voice. It is already easy to see why he is such a good recruiter, with the anticipation and excitement for what comes next coming oozing off him. He almost seems to be on the edge of his seat for what is next, as if the next step is right there for the taking if only we would leap out of our chairs to seize it.
While his muscular build and posture spoke of a ready intensity, his deep blue eyes and quiet voice issued a calm through the room. He is a football coach through and through, commanding the room immediately. There was no need to outmuscle anyone for attention. Instantly when you enter the room, he gives the impression of someone who deserves your respect.
So who is this coach? How did he create this success and what is next for him?
Hoffner has guided the Mavericks to NSIC championships and five NSIC South Division championships while pushing into the NCAA DII playoffs five times. He also led the Mavericks to a victory in the Mineral Water Bowl in 2011. But the wave of success was not immediate, nor was it come by easily.
The weathered coach has seen in it all over the course of his long career, punching his card season after season between the chalk on the green of the football field. He is easily considered a football lifer, starting out in the sport in the 70’s and making a name at cornerback while playing college ball for the Valley City State Vikings and graduating in 1989.
He started his college coaching back in 1991, at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he was an assistant coach until 1998. From there, Hoffner moved up to the position of head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where he posted a 42-28 record in his 1999-2005 tenure.
Following his run through Wisconsin schools, he took a year off from a head coaching position, filling in the role of offensive coordinator for the University of South Dakota in 2006 and 2007. From there he joined the Mavericks, whom he coached from 2008-2011 and then from 2014 to the present. Over the course of eight seasons with MSU Hoffner has led them to a 79-20 record.
“As a head coach, you are a beneficiary of a lot of work, a lot of units of work from a lot of different people, so I am appreciative and have an attitude of gratitude,” said Hoffner on the role of head coach.
While the trek to becoming a coach that regularly finds wins was a long one for Hoffner, it was immediate for the Mavericks, benefiting from his already made bulk of experience in the coaching realm. MSU went from a 4-7 team the season before, to a 9-3 team under Hoffner’s direction, with a turnaround that took place jaw-droppingly fast. However, this would become a run of the mill standard for the Mavericks under the new management. With Hoffner at the helm, the Mavericks would have four double-digit win seasons and get to nine wins twice. The 2010 season would mark the one-time MSU failed to reach at least eight wins (they went 6-5).
“Being appreciative of what you have and what you get can only be really appreciative once you’ve faced rock bottom before,” said Hoffner on working towards more success and building a program up. “I went through that and every day and every opportunity is a blessing. Every chance that I get to work with these young men, it is important for us to grow as people as students and as athletes.”
The team has not only fared well under Hoffner, they have always strived to become even better, with last season a perfect representation of that push. Following what was, by MSU’s lofty standards, a failed season (they still won eight games), the Mavericks needed a bounce back. They returned with a dominant running game that lifted a sophomore and a transfer to top 1,000 rushing yards each while the defense complemented by allowing only 15.4 points per game. Much like their coach, the team has never been one to rest on laurels, always straining at the limits of the team to advance to greater heights.
“I don’t know if vindicated is the right word for this stage in my career, more so appreciation,” said Hoffner on his success with the program. “An appreciation for all the student-athletes and all the coaches who have worked to make this a possibility. We have a huge support staff to make sure our guys are healthy or training to be better, anything and everything to help contribute to our success.”
Sitting in his office and talking about getting locked and loaded for next season, the coach stays on the edge of his seat, seemingly preparing for a sprint into the offseason of preparation if only to get his team in the top gear possible for 2018 action. He talks about the tweaks he is making to his program, (a program that has already proven itself through wins). How last year the team “trimmed weight together” with a new conditioning plan and lost over 100 collective pounds as a team. He talks about the continued importance of “building athletes, students, and men”, as winning is far from the only program goal.
It is because when you sit across from Hoffner, you sit across from someone who deeply cares not only about his craft and his program, but also about the people in it. He cares about the athletes he is molding and how they conduct themselves in life, not just sports. He cares about his fellow coaches, whom he realizes he leans on and needs to run the best program, fully acknowledging both their contributions and impact on the team. He cares about the athletic trainers, the strength and conditions architects, the equipment managers because they all have a role on the team Hoffner cares so deeply about. These are not cogs in a machine to Hoffner, he cares for their contributions and added impact like a father watching the work of his children.
This is what makes Hoffner such a good coach and how he can produce the very best out of every piece of his program because they know the 100 percent they put in, their leader is matching.
This is coach Hoffner, and sitting across from him, I am damn near ready to take the field for him myself.