Sports with Shook: Purdue? More like Pur-Don’t!

Nick Shook

In a move we all expected to see at some point, Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell skipped town to accept the same job at a bigger school.

Surprise, surprise.

But the school he chose makes sense and is puzzling at the same time.

Hazell agreed to become the head coach at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Hurricane Hazell (nickname credit: Sean Barie) will lead the Boilermakers onto the field to the tune of not only “Hail Purdue,” but also $2 million per year.

Hazell made $300,000 in base salary while at Kent State.

The move makes sense because, well, we all saw some sort of move coming. I wrote on Nov. 15 [] that Kent State fans should enjoy the Hazell Era while they still could. I asked the rhetorical question of ‘how long will it be before the familiar image of Hazell in his signature white vest is just a fond memory of the glory days?’

Apparently, the answer to that was three weeks.

Let’s face it – successful Mid-American Conference coaches don’t stick around. Need proof?

Including Hazell, 13 former MAC coaches hold the same position in the NCAA’s FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A). Two of those 13 – Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly (former head coach at Central Michigan), and Alabama’s Nick Saban (former head coach at Toledo, and a Kent State alum) – are set to face off in the national title game Jan. 7. Five of the 12 current head coaches in the Big Ten alone are from MAC schools.

Urban Meyer is a former MAC coach (Bowling Green). Urban Meyer is also the current head coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes. Which brings me to why this move is puzzling.

Hazell was a former Ohio State assistant under Jim Tressel, so he is familiar with the Big Ten. It’s plausible to think that he was at least somewhat enticed by the thought of returning to the conference.

But he has to compete with Meyer, and Brady Hoke at Michigan, and Mark D’Antonio at Michigan State and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. As sports editor Grant Engle wrote in Wednesday’s edition, Purdue is and has been the doormat of the Big Ten. Why go to a school that only has a glimmer of hope of ever winning the conference?

Do you know what I think about when I hear the name Purdue?

I think of smart students, especially in engineering. I think of Craig Krenzel’s last-second touchdown completion to Michael Jenkins on fourth down, a play now known as “Holy Buckeye.” I think of their giant bass drum. I think of their logo that confused the heck out of me as a small child. I think of Drew Brees.

But unless Hazell can attract high-quality talent to West Lafayette (not easy to do, considering Curtis Painter and Kyle Orton were the star quarterbacks for the Boilermakers in their recent history), he is going to be the next Turner Gill.

This situation is similar to that of Gill, who left Buffalo in 2009 to take the head job at Kansas, the perennial doormat of the Big 12. Gill was fired after a 5-19 record in two seasons.

It was a pipe dream for any of us to think that Hazell might stay for the long-term and build Kent State into the next Boise State of college football. This school simply doesn’t have the athletic funding to support such a cause without sacrificing other areas of scholastic sport.

Some players are happy for their now former coach. Others couldn’t say the same last night, when news first broke that he had accepted the position at Purdue.

Running back Trayion Durham even tweeted something to the effect of “Trayion = free agent.”

Dri Archer was a Doug Martin recruit. But Hazell had a big part in luring Durham to Kent. He knew how to get kids that belonged at bigger Division I schools to instead choose to become a Golden Flash.

With Hazell gone, those recruits may not make their way to Kent State in the future.

Joel Nielsen, Kent State Director of Athletics, said on Wednesday “We wish [Hazell] nothing but the best; but we have no intention of disappearing from the map.”

This time, one huge difference that we have in our program’s favor is that our players really believe in themselves and their teammates,” Nielsen said. “That’s evident in the success we’ve witnessed over the past two years.”

Part of the belief the players currently hold had very much to do with a similar, and likely stronger belief in their head coach. With their leader more than one foot out the door, can we honestly expect to see the same from this team in their bowl game?

“We plan to build on that belief by hiring a coach who believes strongly in his ability to make a difference in the lives of our players both on and off the field,” Nielsen said.

Sitting in that meeting with your coach, the man in whom you put your faith, trust and future when you signed that National Letter of Intent, and listening to him tell you and your brothers that he is leaving you for a sexier, wealthier school is not as easy as just answering with a stoic response of “it’s a business.” I know better than that.

But now is the crucial time, the time when Nielsen cannot miss on his next hire. He cannot pull a University of Akron and hire a recruiting coordinator who was a friend as the next head coach. If Nielsen wants to stay on the proverbial “map,” he must nail it.

Hazell says he will coach the team in the Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala. As in any case where a coach is headed out the door after a bowl game, I worry that the players will, as a sign of defiance, intentionally lay an absolute egg.

But we’ve also seen the exact opposite from teams in the past, and knowing the players on this team, I think their character, competitiveness and overall dedication to themselves, their teammates and their school will prevail.

As for Hazell and his Boilermakers, that remains to be seen.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].