Tressel: Hiring Hazell Start of “Golden Era” for Kent State
By Brandon Castel
The Golden Flashes haven’t had much to celebrate over the past 25 years, but there was plenty of excitement Monday as Kent State introduced former Ohio State assistant Darrell Hazell as the new head football coach.
An assistant with the Buckeyes for the past six seasons, Hazell became the Golden Flashes’ 20th head coach Monday, and the school’s first black football coach in the 90-year history of the program.
“I'm proud and excited to be named Kent State's head football coach,” Hazell said during Monday’s introductory press conference.
“I believe this is a tremendous opportunity and I can't wait to give the Golden Flashes' fans the winning program they deserve. Many of the pieces are in place to be successful and I'm confident that with a lot of hard work, we'll get it done.”
Hazell takes over for Doug Martin, who was 29-53 in seven years with no winning seasons during his tenure at Kent State. The Golden Flashes have not had a winning season since they were 7-4 back in 1987 under Glen Mason, who coincidentally enough came to Kent after six seasons as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State.
“I’m so excited for Darrell Hazell as he takes over as the head coach at Kent State. He has certainly been a difference-maker at Ohio State,” OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel said in a statement.
“The Golden Flashes are starting a golden era led by Darrell Hazell.”
That era will have to wait until after Jan. 4. Hazell will stay on with the Buckeyes to coach in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. After that, he has received Tressel’s blessing to take the next step.
“‘That's what you need to do for your career,’” Hazell said of Tressel’s response.
Originally hired by Tressel to coach the wide receivers and return game at Ohio State in February 2004, Hazell also added the title of assistant head coach to his name the following year. It was that experience which helped Hazell land the Kent State job over fellow finalists Curt Cignetti and Bobby Kennedy, who coach the wide receivers at Alabama and Texas respectively.
“One of the things that separated Darrell (from other candidates) was his assistant head coaching abilities,” KSU Athletic Director Joel Nielsen said.
“That was a big part of it.”
The former offensive coordinator at Oberlin College became one of Tressel’s right-hand men during his time in Columbus, and helped to develop a number of NFL-caliber receivers, including first-round draft picks Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn. Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. Holmes was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida. Hazell also coached fellow NFL receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, along with Ohio State’s current duo of Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey.
He is a fierce recruiter with a contagious personality, who should help the Golden Flashes turn around a program that was 5-7 last season under Martin.
“I've waited a long time for this,” the 46-year old Hazell said.
“I know we can win here. We're real close.”
Although he is the Golden Flashes’ fifth-straight first-time head coach, Hazell brings 24 years of coaching experience to Kent State. He spent the last six as an assistant at Ohio State, but has also coached at Rutgers, West Virginia, the U.S. Military Academy and Western Michigan.
A native of New Jersey and a football star at Cinnaminson High School, Hazell went on to become an All-American and team captain for Muskingum College as a senior in 1986 (he was inducted into the Muskingum Hall of Fame in 1993).
Following his career as a Fighting Muskie, Hazell took his first job coaching the running backs at Oberlin College. After a year at Eastern Illinois, Hazell was promoted to offensive coordinator at Oberlin, but three years later he took a job as the running backs coach at the University of Pennsylvania.
He caught his first big break as the wide receivers coach at Western Michigan in 1995, and came to the Buckeyes in February 2004 after stints at the U.S. Military Academy, West Virginia and Rutgers. After two years as the receivers coach at Rutgers, Hazell was promoted to assistant head coach under Greg Schiano in 2003.
His promotion to head coach could open the door for Hazell’s return to Ohio State in the future. If he can have success elsewhere as a head coach, he could be a very serious candidate to replace Tressel when he eventually calls it quits.
Until then, Hazell said he doesn’t plan on taking any of Tressel’s current assistants for his new staff. That includes safeties coach Paul Haynes, a 1992 Kent State grad. He may look to add former OSU linebacker Marcus Freeman, who served as a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes during the 2010 season.
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