Opinion: Coping with Hazell’s sudden exit



Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a senior news major and opinion editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

It’s the first truly exciting season for the Kent State football program in most of our lifetimes, and just as soon as it happens, head coach Darrell Hazell departs for Purdue. People are sad, especially those who have never experienced something like this. But the university has been through this before, specifically in the consistently successful men’s basketball program, when Jim Christian left for TCU in 2008 and Geno Ford escaped for Bradley in 2011.

We want Kent State to be a prime destination for coaches and recruits, and justifiably so, because it’s our school. As a lifelong Portage County resident, I’ve spent years dreaming of the Flashes becoming football’s next Boise State, or basketball’s next Butler.

But consider the coach’s perspective. Most of them dream of becoming the coach at one of the biggest and most recognizable, successful and profitable schools, not somewhere like Kent State. Most of them want to win a championship, and the corrupt and unfair BCS system ensures that even the winningest of the schools with small athletic budgets like Kent State have zero chance at ever getting to play for a national title.

If Hazell’s decision to duck out in the midst of the school’s first bowl game in 40 years doesn’t make you wish college football had a playoff system, I don’t know what will. It’s proof of bowl games’ meaninglessness when coaches regularly ditch their players before the game even happens. For crying out loud, the Purdue job was open for Hazell because the school fired coach Danny Hope for not being good enough, and yet the 6-6 Boilermakers get to play in a bowl game. The whole system is a joke.

It’s difficult to direct any anger toward Hazell when this is occurring everywhere. In the day between Northern Illinois’ defeat of Kent State in the MAC Championship and its invitation to the esteemed Orange Bowl, head coach Dave Doeren bolted for North Carolina State. On the same day that Hazell’s departure became a certainty, our upcoming bowl opponent, Arkansas State, lost head coach Gus Malzahn to Auburn.

Sure, we could have paid Hazell more to stay if we wanted to. But do we really want to? Purdue will easily pay him at least quadruple what he was getting here. His $300,000 salary was the second-lowest in the 124-school bowl subdivision, but it’s still a ton of money when you remember that this is supposed to be an educational institution first and foremost.

Suppose we had decided to raise his salary to $500,000, highest in the Mid-American Conference. Or suppose we had matched what Purdue offered. Either way, from where were we supposed to get that money?

We’ve already been increasing tuition every year by the maximum amount allowed in Ohio to compensate for decreases in state funding. Each student already pays more than $250 in his or her tuition every semester to the athletic department since it doesn’t earn as much money as it spends.

At a time when both the importance and cost of a college degree keep becoming greater and greater, is that an expense we would really want to keep piling on to students? Unless President Lester Lefton wanted to start donating his bonuses to the cause, we had no chance of keeping Hazell.

Unfortunately, the richest schools are able to pay upwards of $5 million to their coaches (which is extremely ridiculous for a public university to do, but that’s another battle). Even worse, the upcoming creation of a four-team playoff system in 2014 does not give teams like Kent State a realistic chance at a national championship, but rather ensures an even greater percentage of postseason revenues will go to the richest schools.

As long as that remains the case, it’s an inconvenient truth for mid-major schools that they will almost never get a good coach to stick around for a long time.

On the other hand, that makes accomplishments like the Flashes’ improbable 11-2 record this season all the more stunning, impressive and worth celebrating. But it will never fully alleviate the disappointment of going through another coaching search and thus falling a few steps behind in the never-ending challenge of overcoming our football adversity.