Kent State introduces Paul Haynes as its 21st head football coach

Nick Shook

2012 has been a year of firsts for Kent State’s football program.

The Flashes recorded their first 11-win season in school history. Kent State won the Mid-American Conference East Division title and made its first-ever appearance in the MAC Championship Game.

Kent State named a former player as head coach Tuesday for the first time in the history of the program.

Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen introduced Paul Haynes as the 21st head coach of Kent State’s football team inside the campus’ Student Center governance chambers.

“Paul has every value and characteristic needed to build upon our success and to keep Kent State football on the map,” Nielsen said.

Haynes, the defensive coordinator at Arkansas and now Darrell Hazell’s successor, arrived with the hope and vision to continue the success. But he emphasized that after the Flashes play in the Bowl, the focus will be on the future.

“After we take care of our business on Jan. 6, we’re really not going to talk about last year,” Haynes said. “We’re going to talk about what got us there.”

Kent State football appeared on the national scene in 2012 thanks to the efforts of head coach Darrell Hazell and his players, who won 11 of 12 regular season games before falling to Northern Illinois in double overtime of the MAC Championship Game.

Hazell resigned Dec. 5 to take the same position at Purdue University. Haynes, 43, is no stranger to the history and recent success of the Kent State football program.

He walked on to the Kent State football team 25 years ago as a freshman after graduating from St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus, Ohio. He earned a scholarship at the conclusion of preseason camp and started his first freshman year game as safety.

Haynes finished his Kent State career with 440 tackles, ranking seventh on the Flashes’ all-time career tackles list. He began his coaching career as an assistant at St. Francis DeSales in 1993.

Haynes eventually made his way to The Ohio State University, where he coached alongside Hazell under head coach Jim Tressel from 2005-2010.

“I know Darrell Hazell,” Haynes said. “I know Darrell Hazell’s philosophy. His philosophies are a lot of my philosophies — we come from the same tree.”

That same tree is a reason why Nielsen said he selected Haynes as the next man to lead the Flashes onto the Dix Stadium field. With a banner year nearing completion, Nielsen said he did not see it fit to hire a new coach with a different coaching philosophy, so he looked to the coaching lineage that produced Hazell.

“Paul’s a guy that we talked to two years ago,” Nielsen said. “At that point, though, we felt that Darrell was more ready.”

Haynes took a pay cut to become the head coach of his alma mater. He signed a five-year contract that pays him $375,000 in base salary, plus plenty of achievement-based incentives. Haynes made $475,000 as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas.

Haynes detailed his three basic goals for his time at Kent State. Haynes wants all of his players to graduate with meaningful degrees, “so they can be respectable citizens of this great country.”

For his second goal, Haynes wants to win, and his third goal is for the program to have a positive impact on the university, the community and the state of Ohio.

“We have a privilege to wear these colors; we have a privilege to wear this uniform,” Haynes said. “We have a privilege to play this game, and our guys are going to understand that.”

Haynes is a native of Columbus, Ohio, and knows the area well.

“His experience as a coach and a recruiter, plus his knowledge of Ohio, along with his relationships with the Ohio high school coaches put Paul Haynes at the top of my list,” Nielsen said.

Haynes will not play a part in preparations for the Bowl, but said he will attend the game to support the players he met with shortly before the press conference began Tuesday.

“When I met with these guys, it just kind of hit me and I got emotional about it,” Haynes said. “I was in their shoes. I wore these colors. I sat in these meetings.”

Haynes joined six current Kent State athletic coaches (Scott Stricklin, Herb Page, Kathleen Wiler, Jim Andrassy, Brice Biggin and Mike Morrow) as alumni who currently lead their respective teams through the season.

Haynes thanked coaches under whom he played or coached during his time at various schools, including Tressel, Hazell and former Arkansas, Michigan State and Louisville coach John L. Smith.

“When I emailed Mr. Nielsen that I was interested in this job, about two of them called me and asked me if I was interested in it and then the floodgates opened,” Haynes said. “I appreciate what you guys did. I love you guys, we went to battle together and I know you’ll be there for me for sure.”