Wednesday, June 12, 2013
First-year challenges for Hazell, Andersen
By Brian Bennett
Taking over a new program as a head coach always brings its share of challenges.
First-year coaches have to work with a group of players that with few exceptions they never recruited. They often must implement new styles of play and terminology, adjust their own philosophies to the talent on hand and win over the fan base. Oh, and they'd better win right away, too, or the criticism will start early.
The Big Ten has two new head coaches this season in Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell. What are some of the specific challenges facing each man? Let's examine:
It's rare a new coach comes into a program that has been winning at a high level. After all, there's usually a reason why the team made a coaching change in the first place, and successful programs often look to promote one of "their guys" in a transition. So Andersen is an unusual case in that he's taking over a Badgers team that has won three straight Big Ten titles and gone to three straight Rose Bowls. Yet athletic director Barry Alvarez went with someone who had no Wisconsin ties (or, really, much of any roots east of the Rockies) when he hired Andersen from Utah State to replace Bret Bielema.
You always have to worry about players who have won a lot under the old ways accepting a change and a new voice, but Andersen seemed to connect with the Wisconsin players quickly by earning their respect and trust. Badgers fans, many of whom disliked Bielema more than most outsiders could imagine, have also already embraced Andersen. Of course, if Wisconsin doesn't win early under Andersen, there will be a lot more people who start talking about the good old days. He will have to live up to Bielema's impressive record and the very large shadow of Alvarez, a Hall of Famer who's still revered by Badgers everywhere.
On a more micro level, Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda are switching to a 3-4 defense that will be unique to the Big Ten. That will require an adjustment. Wisconsin also has a close quarterback battle raging between Joel Stave and Curt Phillips that will be intensified when Tanner McEvoy -- an Andersen recruit -- arrives this summer. The offense needs to get better at the receiver position outside of Jared Abbrederis, and Andersen must maintain the tradition of outstanding offensive line play, even if his staff teaches blocking techniques differently than their predecessors.
Still, as far as first-year jobs go, this is a plum assignment, given Wisconsin's recent success and the talent on hand. Andersen's No. 1 challenge in 2013 may well be something outside of his immediate control: Ohio State.
There's one major difference between Hazell and Andersen: Hazell doesn't have to worry about living up to his predecessor's record. Danny Hope went just 22-27 in West Lafayette, and the vast majority of Boilermakers fans had soured on Hope by the time he was fired following last season's regular-season finale. Hazell was greeted with open arms by Purdue supporters if for no other reason than that he wasn't Danny Hope; he's also an impressive public speaker who can get a crowd fired up when he talks, unlike the often rambling Hope.
Hazell's challenges, then, are of a more practical sort. To put it simply, he needs to get the Boilers to perform better on the field. Though Purdue reached back-to-back bowl games the past two seasons, the team often wilted in spotlight games and showed a lack of mental grit and discipline at key moments. The offense lacked an identity at times, and the defense suffered from a linebacker unit that wasn't good enough for upper-echelon Big Ten standards.
Toughness is a word Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop have used a lot in the offseason. Hazell's surprising Kent State team last season ran the ball with authority, and that's something he wants Purdue to adopt as well. The trouble is that the two quarterbacks who started last season -- Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush -- are both gone, and the lead tailback, Akeem Hunt, carried the ball just 42 times last year. The Boilers could end up going with a true freshman -- Danny Etling -- under center this season.
The 2013 schedule -- which includes nonconference games against Cincinnati and versus Notre Dame and Northern Illinois, plus crossover games against Nebraska and Michigan State -- is very demanding and will make it difficult for Purdue to get off to a strong start. And one of Hazell's big challenges is to build enthusiasm and excitement again among Boilermakers fans who stopped showing up at Ross-Ade Stadium last year. If the team loses five or six of its first seven games -- a distinct possibility -- then the rebuilding effort only becomes more difficult. It could also affect recruiting, which has never been particularly easy at Purdue.
Then again, no one said being a first-year head coach would be easy.