Purdue welcomes new coach, Hazell
When Purdue Athletics Director Morgan Burke first met Darrell Hazell, he was a little bit surprised at the man standing in front of him.
"I thought he was going to be taller," Burke joked.
So far in his career, there has been no task too tall for the new Boilermakers Head Football Coach.
Hazell comes to West Lafayette with more than 25 years of coaching experience. He has worked in the Big Ten as an assistant at Ohio State and most recently as head coach of a Kent State program that he turned around from one that won five games last year to an 11-win team this season.
He led the Golden Flashes to the Mid-American Conference Championship Game and a trip to the GOdaddy.com bowl and was named the conference’s Coach of the Year.
The 48-year-old is vowing to bring that same winning pedigree to Purdue.
"When I took the Kent State job, people looked at me like I was crazy. 'They haven't won there is 40 years. Why would you take that job coming from Ohio State?'" said Hazell. "I bit my lip and went to work and that's what we are going to do here. We are going to win championships here."
Hazell replaces Danny Hope who was fired last month after a pair of six loss seasons.
Going into the search for a new head coach, Burke said Purdue needed to find someone who excites the fan base.
Attendance at Ross-Ade Stadium averaged about 43,500 this season, roughly 1,700 fewer than in 2011.
Hazell says he is willing to do whatever it takes to create a buzz around the football program.
"If I need to get out on campus and visit fraternities houses and the dorms, I'll do that to get the fans back into the stadium. I think there needs to be an energy," he said. "It's going to take all of us to win a championship. The more fans, the louder the fans are, the better they are on third down, the better chance we have to win football games.
And Burke believes that type of energy is what it takes to get bodies back into the Ross-Ade Stadium seats.
"You can hear the intensity and the passion," said Burke. "I watched him tonight work the crowd. He literally went and shook every single players hands. It wasn't one of these 'how you doing' and moving on to the next person. There was genuine eye contact."
That type of connection is part of the reason junior quarterback Rob Henry and his teammates are encouraged by their new coach.
"I think everybody is excited," said Henry. "We realize that we are just going to have to work hard and are looking forward to being around coach Hazell, getting to know him better, and going to battle with him on Saturday's next fall."
And when he steps onto the sidelines next fall, Hazell will be making history. He becomes Purdue’s first African American head coach in football or basketball and just the fourth African American to lead a football program in the Big Ten.
Hazell says he doesn’t put much emphasis on that and neither does Purdue Acting President Tim Sands.
Sands says Hazell will bring a unique life experience to West Lafayette, as would any hire, but the bottom line is..
"We hired coach Hazell because he is the best person for the job. Period," said Sands. "With that said, life experience and relating to students-athletes and all stake holders is an important part of being a head football coach."
Hazell’s contract is for six years. The financial details have not yet been disclosed. But, Burke says the deal provides enough financially for Hazell to put together a top tier staff.
"We realized that we are at a point and time now where we have hit a little bit of a ceiling. We haven't been as consistent," said Burke. "We've got to break out of that orbit. It was at that point and time that I said we've got to really make sure that the same investment we put in the physical assets we put into the human assets."
Hazell plans to attend Purdue’s Heart of Dallas Bowl game New Year’s Day against Oklahoma State, but will stay in Ohio to coach Kent State in their bowl game January 6th .
He says balancing those two duties won’t be an issue and is promising to get to work right away.
"We are looking to improve every day. That's our number one goal is making strides forward in every area, on the field, off the field, and in the classroom," he said. "If we can do that, we are going to make Purdue very proud."