Thinking Out Loud: Hazell Gets His Shot
By Brandon Castel
Darrell Hazell will do a great job at Purdue.
What that means, exactly, I’m not quite sure. His predecessor, Danny Hope, won exactly 22 games in four seasons in West Lafayette, including that 26-18 upset of No. 7-ranked Ohio State back in 2009.
That was a Terrelle Pryor special, but afterwards, Hope made a most memorable gaffe by telling people to “get used to it,” as in get used to Purdue upsetting Ohio State and other big time schools in the Big Ten.
The Boilermakers would not beat another top 20 team during Hope’s tenure as head coach, which came to an end last week after Purdue went 6-6 in a year where their head coach proclaimed it would be his best team yet.
So much for that, but I never really did understand the decision to hire Hope in the first place. I know he was a former Purdue assistant and offensive coordinator at Louisville (for one year), but the guy never won more than nine games as a head coach.
He was 35-22 in five seasons at Eastern Kentucky, his alma mater, before Purdue “lured” him away back in 2009. It is hires like that one which make me question the Big Ten’s overall dedication to the sport of football.
The same goes for Jerry Kill up at Minnesota, and like it or not, the conference got even weaker on Monday with the departure of Bret Bielema, who coached Wisconsin to three straight Big Ten titles before bolting for the Arkansas job and an SEC pay day.
Who could blame him? The Big Ten is in trouble, despite what the Big Ten Network’s ad executives are telling Jim Delany. The decision to add Maryland and Rutgers may yield short term gain, but college football is, and always has been, about the long game.
It’s hard to dismiss what Delany has done from a financial standpoint, but on the field, the Big Ten is falling behind. Right now, there is not one team from the conference favored to win a bowl game, and two of the flagship programs – Ohio State and Penn State – will be sitting at home during the holidays.
It appears the Nittany Lions made the right choice with Bill O’Brien – if they can keep him – but that program is looking at some dark days ahead.
The Big Ten will have two new head coaches next season. There were three this year and three the year before. The conference’s two most legendary coaches, Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno, were both unceremoniously relieved of duty, and the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten, Kirk Ferentz, is one bad season away from the unemployment line.
It’s scary to think where the Big Ten would be without Urban Meyer, the only truly elite head football coach in the conference. Mark Dantonio, Brady Hoke and Bo Pelini have had their moments, and Pat Fitzgerald is the one young coach whose star is on the rise, but now the watch is on to see how long Northwestern can keep him.
If Bielema, a Big Ten country boy born and raised, can leave Barry Alvarez in the dust for more money at Arkansas, what will it take for Fitz to part ways with his alma mater?
Right Man for the Job
All of that brings me back to Hazell, who has reportedly been tabbed as the next head football coach at Purdue. It comes on the heels of an 11-2 season at Kent State, and if you’re wondering why Hazell would jump ship after just two years with the Golden Flashes, it’s called money.
More specifically that they don’t have any.
Hazell made about $300,000 a year as the head coach at Kent State. The school’s athletic program is in such bad shape that the Flashes had to play seven games on the road this season. They made more money playing away from Dix Stadium, which makes it even more impressive that Hazell was able to do what he did in a year where their only two non-conference home games were Towson and Ball State.
That Kent State team won six games on the road this year, including a 35-23 win at then No. 15-ranked Rutgers, a place Hazell knows well from his days as wide receivers coach and assistant head coach under Greg Schiano.
Hazell also served as the assistant head coach under Tressel at Ohio State back in 2010. The Buckeye won the Sugar Bowl that year and Hazell eventually put two more receivers, Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey, in the NFL.
Add them to a list that also includes Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Robiskie, and Brian Hartline, who called Hazell “the best coach I’ve ever had.”
He would have likely been Ohio State’s interim head coach last season, rather than Luke Fickell, if he hadn’t already taken the head coaching job at Kent State, and many believe he could be a candidate to replace Urban Meyer someday – whenever it is he decides to leave Columbus.
That’s a lot of speculating for a guy who has been a head coach for exactly two years, but now Hazell will have a chance to prove his mettle in a place where few coaches have been able to have much success.
Toledo, Ohio native Jack Mollenkopf won 84 games with the Boilermakers during his 14 years in West Lafayette, and Purdue actually had a small run of success in the 1960s. In 1967, Mollenkopf coached the school's first appearance in the Rose Bowl, leading Purdue to a 14–13 victory over USC. The next year the Boilers won the Big Ten with a 6-1 record in conference play.
They were ranked No. 2 in the country when they smacked Woody Hayes and the Buckeyes 41-6 in Columbus in week three. Hayes would get his revenge the following year with a 13-0 upset of the No. 1-ranked Boilermakers.
Another Toledo native, Joe Tiller, broke Mollenkopf’s school record with 87 wins in 12 seasons using his “basketball on grass” spread attack, which earned him Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1997 and a Big Ten championship in 2000.
The Boilers went to 10 bowl games in those 12 years under Tiller, including the Rose Bowl back in 2001. That seems like a different world, but I think Hazell was the right hire at the right time. He understands what it takes to be successful and he has the right personality for the job.
That’s good news for Purdue, and good news for the Big Ten. I’m not sure who needs it more right now.
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