Darrell Hazell might not have been Purdue's first choice as football coach, but he could turn out to be the right one.
After it became clear earlier this week that Purdue's courtship of Cincinnati coach Butch Jones wasn't going anywhere, the school quickly moved onto Hazell, the Kent State coach who guided the Golden Flashes to an 11-2 record and a MAC East Division title in his second season. If Kent State had beaten Northern Illinois in Friday's MAC title game, it would be the team headed to Miami for the Discover Orange Bowl.
Purdue officially named Hazell its coach Wednesday. No contract terms were released immediately, and Hazell will be introduced at a 7 p.m. ET news conference.
"Darrell is a great fit to build on our existing foundation," athletic director Morgan Burke said in a prepared statement. "His leadership at Kent State, combined with his prior experience at Ohio State and other stops along the way, has prepared him to help us continue to move toward developing a championship-caliber program. He understands our '25/85' vision as well as our desire to recruit both locally and nationally. Furthermore, it is clear that he appreciates the Cradle of Quarterbacks tradition, and it will remain a focal point of our program."
As MAC jobs go, Kent State isn't one of the best, and Hazell made the Flashes into a winner. As Big Ten jobs go, Purdue's isn't near the top, either, but Hazell also can succeed there.
Although he has only two years of head-coaching experience, he has Big Ten roots at Ohio State, serving as an assistant under Jim Tressel from 2004-2010. Hazell coached the Buckeyes' receivers and served as assistant head coach for his final six seasons. If he hadn't taken the Kent State job, he would have served as the Buckeyes' acting head coach in 2011 following Tressel's resignation.
Burke made it clear after firing Danny Hope that he wanted an offense-minded coach. Hazell played wide receiver in college and has spent his entire career on the offensive side of the ball. He was instrumental in Ohio State's offensive game plans during his time in Columbus. As a Tressel disciple, Hazell places an emphasis on special teams and turnover margin, two areas where Kent State excelled this season.
He's a New Jersey native who worked as an assistant at Rutgers, which will join the Big Ten as a new member in a few years (most likely 2014). Hazell, 48, also has coached in West Virginia (WVU), Michigan (Western Michigan), New York (Army), Pennsylvania (Penn) and Illinois (Eastern Illinois). His ties to New Jersey should be beneficial in recruiting, as the Mid-Atlantic region takes on added importance because of the Big Ten's expansion. Hope looked to his home state of Florida for talent. Don't be surprised if Hazell does the same with New Jersey.
Hazell's hire also is significant for the Big Ten. I wrote in February about the Big Ten's lack of minority football coaches, and took a lot of heat for it. The league has had only three African-American coaches -- at only two schools -- in its history and none since Bobby Williams at Michigan State (2000-2002). While other leagues had seen increases in the hiring of coaches of color, the Big Ten had not. Hazell becomes the fourth African-American coach in league history, and he's certainly qualified for the job.
Purdue is one of three Big Ten schools (Illinois, Nebraska) that had never hired an African-American coach in football or men's basketball. It's nice to see that change.
Hazell faces tough challenges at Purdue. Joe Tiller (1997-2008) and Jim Young (1977-81) are the only Boiler coaches with winning records since Jack Mollenkopf's tenure ended following the 1969 season. Although Burke feels Purdue has invested enough in its football program, Hazell soon will realize that he's not at Ohio State. The state isn't flush with top-level recruits, although I'd expect Hazell's local recruiting efforts to be stronger than Hope's.
Perhaps most important, Purdue needs to generate some buzz around its program again, as attendance has been on the decline. Hazell isn't a huge name, but he has a good track record and presents himself very well publicly. Purdue fans will like him, and while he doesn't have as much head-coaching experience as Jones, he's no stranger to leadership roles.
Hazell also enters the easier division (Leaders) in the Big Ten. Although he has to contend with his former employer in Ohio State, the other programs are struggling, transitioning or both.
I like this hire for Purdue, and while I'll take some heat for this again, I like it for the Big Ten, which had lagged behind in minority hiring for football.
There's only one problem with Hazell, and it's a major one: no mustache. It's a job requirement for the Purdue coach, and a potential deal breaker. Better lose that razor for a while, Darrell.
Jones would have been a nice get for Purdue, but don't be surprised if Hazell makes more sense in the long run. Good choice.