Flashes begin preparation for GoDaddy.com Bowl

Senior quarterback Spencer Keith throws the ball before being tackled by the linemen of Northern Illinois University during the MAC Championship game held in Detroit Michigan, Friday, November 30. Photo by PHILIP BOTTA.

Tim Dorst

The Kent State football team will not take the field again for a month, but practice and preparations have already begun for the Flashes’ first bowl appearance in 40 years.

The Flashes will take on the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the GoDaddy.com Bowl Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala., a game that will be former head coach Darrell Hazell’s last with Kent State before he moves on to coach at Purdue.

Hazell decided to coach the Flashes in the bowl game shortly after accepting the head coaching offer from Purdue Tuesday night, according to Kent State athletic director Joel Nielsen. Hazell said in a press conference Wednesday that his deal with Purdue allows him to coach Kent State in one final game.

The Flashes practiced Wednesday for the first time since losing to the Northern Illinois Huskies 44-37 in the Mid-American Conference Championship game Nov. 30. The heartbreaking loss, coupled with the announcement of Hazell leaving, sparked mixed emotions among members of the team.

Senior linebacker Luke Batton said while Hazell’s physical presence will soon be gone from Kent, he feels there will still be a strong emotional connection between Hazell and the Flashes.

“I know he’s got a lot of emotion here at Kent because this was his first head coaching job,” Batton said. “Obviously, it’s taken him to higher places financially. It definitely builds his career, so he’s always going to have some kind of place here emotionally. I think he’s going to be all in to trying to make sure that we get our first bowl victory ever.”

Hazell’s contract with Purdue is reportedly a six-year agreement worth approximately $12 million. With Kent State, Hazell was earning an average of $300,000 per year, while also receiving incentive based pay on the Flashes’ accomplishments this season.

Kent State will attempt to get its first bowl win in team history against an Arkansas State team with a similar story. After winning the Sun Belt Conference championship with a 9-3, the Red Wolves’ head coach Gus Malzahn opted to leave the team to accept a head coaching offer from Auburn. Malzahn will not coach the team in the bowl game, and Arkansas State defensive coordinator John Thompson was promoted to interim head coach for the game.

The Flashes will look to move past their loss in the MAC Championship and shift their focus to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Two days before announcing his decision to accept the Purdue offer, Hazell said in a press conference that the team will plan between 14 and 15 practices between now and the game Jan. 6. It is unclear whether those plans are still in place.

Hazell held a meeting with players Wednesday morning during which he informed the players and coaches officially of his decision, and senior offensive lineman Brian Winters said emotions were high for both parties during the meeting.

“It woke everybody up real quick,” Winters said. “It was an early meeting, and everyone kind of had a feeling what it was about. [Hazell’s] emotions were really high, too. He’s built this program from the ground up. He means a lot to us, but at the same time we support his decision.”

When the meeting was done, the players reportedly gave Hazell a round of applause.

Junior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix said instead of thinking too far into the future or about who will ultimately replace Hazell as head coach, the team needs to focus on the task at hand and continue to prepare for the bowl game.

“We still have a month left,” Nix said. “Coach Hazell said he’s going to coach in the bowl game, so take it with a grain of salt. We still [have] a month left with the other coaches too, so [we’re] trying not to think about the negatives and just trying to build good times and memories for the future.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].