MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota State Mankato is undefeated, and the new coach is the old coach.

Todd Hoffner was initially rejected by his team at spring practice.

“I don’t think anybody could understand completely everything that I went through, and how difficult and challenging for myself and my wife,” Hoffner said.

Then fall camp started, and they started winning and winning.

“I think winning is, you know, without a doubt a very helpful bridge for us to cross over, to work on these relationships,” he said.

It’s not the same as his first time through. He’s changed, and he thinks for the better.

“For me, you know, I think I’m a lot more open, more engaging, more interacting. Not necessarily everything has to be my way,” Hoffner said.

Maybe that’s why this season has worked so well. He’s making it more of a people business, according to wide receiver Keyvan Rudd.

“He’s just going to be like a player’s coach. He’s going to walk around, do what a head coach does. Observe, make a few pointers here and there, and that’s what he’s done. I think he’s done a nice job of that,” Rudd said. “Lightening up and joking around with guys, just having fun. And I think … he loves Maverick football so much it just comes natural to him.”

They will test it again Saturday against Minnesota Duluth, two rivals in the same conference who have not played each other yet.

And the coach who really wants to win is really thankful where he is now — if not how he got here.

“In the end, you know, you scratch your head and you ask, ‘For what?'” Hoffner said. “Why did this all happen? And maybe in the end I’m a better person, better father, you know, a better husband, better football coach. And if all those things improve because of it, hopefully the future’s very bright.”

Mankato hosts Minnesota Duluth Saturday at noon in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Mike Max