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Hazell leaves no stone unturned at Purdue

8/18/2014

Changes were necessary, there was no way to deny that.

A single look at the standings was enough evidence to see that Purdue Boilermakers could use a few fresh approaches, though after living through the string of losses that ultimately added up to 11, coach Darrell Hazell didn't exactly need the reminder.

The Boilermakers already had something of a head start in the remodeling job as it prepared for the future, making a few minor adjustments during the disastrous season a year ago to help lay the tracks down the road for Hazell's second campaign with the program. But once the 1-11 season was over, the heavy lifting officially started with a top-to-bottom examination of every aspect of the program looking for problems, areas to improve -- and ways to fix it all.

"[Losing is] hard, extremely hard," Hazell said. "You have no idea how hard it is. But you keep working, keep looking for solutions to get through it and find ways that give you the best chance you can have to win.

"It's A to Z. We looked at everything coming out of the season, literally. We talked about how we coach them, meetings, what we eat, everything you can imagine. You've got to reevaluate. And you can say, 'This is fine, but this is not fine and we need to tweak it here.' But you've got to look at everything."

The Boilermakers did just that, but for all the adjustments they may have made behind the scenes, one thing remains unchanged. Hazell hasn't lost any faith he can get his program turned around and out of the lonely Big Ten cellar, and his consistency as a leader appears to be having an impact on a roster trying to rebound from a season that only included one victory celebration.

Initially there might have been some resistance to his systems and his message from the Boilermakers, which isn't exactly uncommon during coaching transitions. But with more time with the players, more familiarity with the schemes and perhaps more veterans frustrated with all the losing dragging along the stragglers, one other thing Hazell apparently hasn't had to compromise is a high level of expectation for his team.

“For teams to be successful when you come off a season like that, you need guys on the team to step up and take ownership,” senior linebacker Sean Robinson said. “That’s one thing our room and our coaches have preached, just to take ownership over what you’re doing with the team. If some people hadn't bought into the coaches and what they're preaching, it's up to us to make sure they do.

"It's our responsibility to keep guys in line and let the younger guys on the team know that we're not good enough to come in and not put in maximum effort. The reality of it is, we're a 1-11 team. We have to focus on everything we do."

The importance of paying attention to even the smallest details hasn't been lost on the players, who know full well what the results look like when things go wrong. And they're not the only ones taking responsibility for what happened a year ago, with the top of the organization in Hazell standing in line to accept blame and figure out the best way to repair the issues that plagued the Boilermakers last season.

Purdue gave up 38 points per game last season and finished No. 10 in the conference in total defense, but there are nine starters returning on that unit and no shortage of experienced leaders alongside Robinson. The Boilermakers had their share of troubles putting up points as well with the lowest-scoring attack in the Big Ten, but Danny Etling returns as the starting quarterback after getting tossed in the fire as a true freshman last season, and he should benefit from what appears to be a much deeper group of skill players to work with -- including a potential game-breaker in speedster Raheem Mostert.

That side of the ball has 10 returning starters, leaving Purdue with few holes to fill in the lineup ahead of the season opener. And while all of those players have felt the pain of continuous losing, they also have plenty of incentive to figure out exactly how to avoid it.

"Everybody, the whole organization feels the sting when you lose like that," Hazell said. “You just have to put your blinders on and go to work.”

Hazell went back to work right away trying to find the right formula for the Boilermakers, both on and off the field. Now it's almost time to see if those changes show up in the standings or if bigger adjustments need to be made during the next offseason.