WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Darrell Hazell spent most of his coaching career telling others to “be great.” Now he’ll try to live up to that mantra in his new job at Purdue.
On Friday, Boilermakers athletic director Morgan Burke hired the 48-year-old Kent State coach to lead the school back into national prominence and presumably back to a Rose Bowl.
“I’m extremely excited to work with the players at Purdue, and I look forward to experiencing a lot of success in the future,” Hazell said in a release issued by the school. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Hazell broke the news to his players during a Wednesday morning meeting after a day of speculation about Hazell’s future. Purdue has scheduled a 4 p.m. PST news conference to introduce Hazell.
Hazell won this season’s Mid-American Conference coach of the year award after leading Kent State to its first winning season since 2001, first bowl appearance in more than four decades and the brink of a BCS bowl game.
The 48-year-old Hazell grew up in New Jersey, but played football at Muskingum College in Ohio. He has strong ties to the Buckeye State, including a seven-year stint on the staff of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
Kent State hired Hazell in December 2010 and led the Golden Flashes to a 5-7 mark (4-4 MAC) and a third-place finish in his first season as a head coach. This year, Hazell’s squad went 11-2 (8-0) and won the MAC East.
He fits the mold of coach Burke outlined during a Nov. 25 news conference to announce the firing of Danny Hope.
“We are an offensive-minded program. That’s where we’ve made our mark over the years. I don’t see that under the circumstances changing,” Burke said during the news conference. “We’re not going to move into a coach that has a dramatically different scheme because we’ve built this team to play a certain kind of football. We’ve seen other institutions that made a coaching change, then they changed their style of play. It took two or three years to adjust. We’re not going to do that. We’ve got talent in this program, we know we have talent in this program. We want it to be nurtured.”
Hazell rebuilt Kent State’s program in just two years, largely on the strength of a strong ground game spearheaded by star Dri Archer. Purdue has preferred the up-tempo, fast-break style offense Joe Tiller brought to West Lafayette and that Hope kept.
He spent seven seasons coaching Ohio State’s receivers under Jim Tressel, has a reputation as a strong recruiter and players have spoken glowingly about the passion and excitement he’s brought to the locker room.
The question is whether Hazell is a big enough name to fill the other area Burke wanted to shore up — attendance, which has steadily declined over the last five years, the last four under Hope.
“We’ve lost a third of the fan base. We’ve gone from about 54,000 paid attendance in 2007-08 to 37,000 this past year,” Burke said. “We can’t do what we need to do resource-wise with losing a third of the fan base, OK? Everybody has all kinds of ideas and rationales on what we can do. But at the end of the day, obviously, we’ve got some work to do to both thank the people who have been with us and stayed with us, but also encourage those who jumped off the boat to get back in.”
Fans initially were clamoring for another MAC coach with Big Ten experience, Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren, who took the North Carolina State job after beating Kent State in the MAC championship game.
Burke also brought Cincinnati coach Butch Jones to campus Sunday afternoon, the day after the Bearcats clinched a share of a second straight Big East title. The next day, Jones flew to Colorado and was reportedly offered a five-year deal worth $13.5 million. Hope earned a Big Ten-low $950,000 in guaranteed compensation last year, though Burke acknowledged he was willing to spend more on his next coach.
Details of Hazell’s contract were not immediately available. He made a base salary of $300,000 with the Golden Flashes.
“We’re prepared to compete,” Burke said when he announced Hope’s firing. “We know in the Big Ten and nationally what you have to do to compete. We’re prepared to do that.”
As word leaked of Colorado’s offer, Burke and a contingent of Purdue officials reportedly flew to northeastern Ohio, where they met with Hazell.
Hazell is the first black coach in Boilermakers history and will take over fulltime duties later this month. The Boilermakers (6-6, 3-5) are scheduled to play Jan. 1.
Hazell also has been an assistant at Rutgers, West Virginia, Army, Western Michigan, Penn, Eastern Illinois and Oberlin College in Ohio. He was inducted into the Muskingum College hall of fame in 1993.
Burke had already said receivers coach Patrick Higgins will coach the Boilermakers in their bowl game.