Hazell feels at home in Kent

Lance Lysowski

When Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen offered Darrell Hazell an opportunity to be Kent State’s 20th head football coach, Hazell did not flinch.

He kept his composure and took time to process the job offer he had waited 25 years to receive.

While he kept a straight face, he was more than excited.

After 25 years coaching college football, spending the past seven seasons as assistant head coach and mentoring the wide receiving corps at Ohio State under coach Jim Tressel, Hazell’s time had come.

“I couldn’t be more excited to welcome Darrell to the Kent State family,” Nielsen said. “When you’re looking for a head football coach, it’s not a just a matter of if they can coach — it’s important to make sure they are a fit for this program, for this campus and this community. I have no doubt in my mind that Darrell is that person.”

Hazell felt at home.

About Hazell

-Hazell will make a base salary of $300,000 per year and the potential for incentives.

-Assistant coaches salaries are expected to not increase drastically.

-During his time at Ohio State, Hazell mentored former Buckeye and current NFL receivers Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr., Brian Robiskie and Anthony Gonzalez.

-”No one has had more of an impact on my career as a football player than Coach Hazell,” Gonzalez said. “However, in many ways, it is the impact that he has had on me as a person that I value most. It is the combination of football know-how and personal integrity that will make him a great addition to Kent State University.”

The 46-year-old was born and raised in New Jersey, but following a standout high school playing career, Hazell played football at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio.

Hazell played four years at Muskingum and got his first break in coaching at Oberlin College following his senior year. From there, he left for jobs at Western Michigan, West Virginia, Rutgers and Ohio State, among others.

Kent State’s newest coach, who earned a reputation for being a top recruiter of talent, said that even though he grew up in New Jersey, Ohio has become his home.

“I love Ohio,” Hazell said. “It seems like I always end up back in Ohio. Whenever I leave, I end up in Ohio. I went to school out here. I coached at Oberlin College, which is where I really cut my teeth in college.”

“The state of Ohio is like a second home to me. I feel like I’ve spent most of my adult life in this state, which I love. I love the people here.”

When Hazell accepted the head coaching position at Kent State, he assumed control of a program that lacks a winning tradition, top-notch facilities and a tarnished reputation among high school players.

That has not changed Hazell’s outlook on building a strong foundation at Kent State.

Hazell’s first order of business was to assemble a staff that can attract recruits and help mold student athletes into well-rounded players. He did just that by rebuilding the coaching staff from the ground up.

The former Buckeye mentor started with naming Brian Rock, Purdue’s wide receiver coach, as offensive coordinator. Jon Heacock, Former Youngstown State head coach, accepted the defensive coordinator position and Marcus Freeman, former Ohio State and NFL linebacker, will coach the linebackers.

Other positions have been filled, but Hazell said he is being very selective in finding coaches that fit his coaching philosophy.

“Hard work, learning how to compete when things are at their absolute worst and being able to weather the storms and being able to come out on top,” Hazell said. “I want guys with high character and morals that are going to work hard. Guys that are going to mentor our guys on and off the field, great teachers and guys that are going to treat them with a lot of respect.”

Hazell said in his introductory press conference on Dec. 20 that Kent State is on the verge of becoming a winning program, and he just had to find a few more pieces for the Flashes to reach their potential. His newly assembled coaching staff has already made a name for Kent State in recruiting over the past weeks doing just that.

Using Ohio as a starting point, Hazell and his staff have signed eight players, who are all from the state of Ohio, over the past week. Rumored to have given Kent State his commitment is Cincinnati native Trayion Durham. Durham, who is the third ranked fullback in the country according to Rivals.com, rescinded his commitment from Wisconsin a month ago and reportedly told Hazell of his intentions to attend Kent State over the weekend.

“Any player who I think can help us win championships here, we’re going to go after,” Hazell said. “We’ll compete, we won’t spin our wheels if he’s not interested. We’ll move on to the next good player because there are lots of good players. We’re going to go compete in recruiting just as we are on the football field. It’s important that you pick good players with quality character that are willing to work at it and football is serious to them.”

When selling the Flashes’ program to high school players, Hazell keeps his selling point very simple.

“I chose Kent State, why can’t you,” Hazell said. “I also sell them that this thing is about ready to take off and explode. If you want to be a part of something special, now is the time to get on it. I think this is something that can be the diamond in the rough.”

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].