If you were fired from a job and legally proved the dismissal was wrongful, would you even want to return to that workplace?
Minot State football coach Todd Hoffner is facing that dilemma at this very moment.
On Wednesday, an arbitrator ruled that Hoffner had been wrongfully fired by Minnesota State-Mankato in May 2013.
Now, Hoffner - who was hired by Minot State on Jan. 30 - has the option to return to Mankato and have his four-year contract reinstated.
But why would he want that?
MSU-Mankato didn't just wrongfully fire Hoffner, the administration absolutely disrespected him. The bigwigs tarnished his reputation, then tried to kick him by the wayside without repercussions.
Hoffner's career has a blemish on it, and for no fault of his own.
By now, we all know the story.
He was placed on investigative leave for nearly all of the 2012 football season. On Nov. 30, 2012, charges against him for possessing and producing child pornography were dropped. That should have been the end of it. No more. Zip. Nada.
Instead, the university revised Hoffner's title to assistant director of facilities development and relegated him to an office - more like a closet - on the far side of MSU-Mankato's campus. He also was suspended for 20 days, which the university is now responsible to pay him for. Then on May 6, 2013, MSU-Mankato dropped him like a rotten sack of potatoes.
But. He. Did. Nothing. Wrong.
As he should have, Hoffner filed a labor grievance against the university with the Bureau of Mediation Services.
Arbitration takes forever and a day.
During that time, he applied for numerous head coaching jobs, but to no avail. Then Minot State gave him an opportunity, a fresh start. MSU Athletic Director Rick Hedberg knew there'd be some baggage, but the Beavers were getting an accomplished coach. One with a history of winning in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, and a few conference and division titles to prove it.
"We knew he had some things he still needed to work out," Hedberg said, "but he was the right fit."
Now, one week after spring practice began, Hoffner has the keys to the Mankato football program once again, if he wants them.
He should toss them in the Souris River.
The Mavericks are loaded with talent - he's produced NFL players there - and Minot State is in rebuilding mode. But returning to Mankato would be no seamless transition.
It would be awkward, for one. If he returns - and even if he doesn't - there's a good chance some members of that administration will be unemployed in the not-so-distant future.
Hoffner did not return a phone call or media request by press time
Thursday, but his lawyer, Chris Madel, made no qualms about it: "I'm
hoping that after the powers that be carefully review the decision that they're going to clean house at Minnesota State University," Madel told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Anybody that had any decision-making authority with respect to Todd Hoffner's employment should resign or be fired."
Even with a fresh administration, that place has to summon memories of turmoil for Hoffner. And in Minot, his parents - Arlene, 80, and Leo, 82 - live 90 minutes away in Esmond, N.D.
MSU-Mankato is responsible for back pay, and to pay the difference in salaries - $101,190 in Mankato to $90,000 at Minot State.
His wife, Melodee, said a return to Mankato is "in discussion right now."
Said Hedberg: "He's our head football coach until we're told otherwise."
It's ultimately up to Hoffner. He's got the keys to two programs, but only one has a clean slate. Only one has a newfound excitement around the program. And only one program gives him the opportunity to beat the school that disrespected him.
Oh, that would be sweet.