WEST LAFAYETTE — Darrell Hazell spent most of his coaching career telling others to “be great.” Now he’ll try to live up to that message at Purdue.
Boilermakers athletic director Morgan Burke hired the 48-year-old Kent State coach on Wednesday to lead the school dubbed as the Cradle of Quarterbacks out of mediocrity, back into national prominence and presumably back to a Rose Bowl.
“I’m extremely excited to work with the players at Purdue, and I look forward to experiencing a lot of success in the future,” Hazell said in a release issued by Purdue. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Hazell broke the news to his players during a Wednesday morning meeting after a day and night filled with speculation about his future.
He told reporters he accepted the job at about 9 p.m. after seeing conflicting reports that he had taken and turned down the job.
Purdue has scheduled a 7 p.m. news conference to introduce Hazell.
Hazell won this season’s Mid-American Conference coach of the year award after leading Kent State to its first winning season since 2001, first bowl appearance in more than four decades and the brink of a BCS bowl game.
Hazell grew up in New Jersey, but played football at Muskingum College in Ohio. He has strong ties to the Buckeye State, including a seven-year stint on the staff of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
Kent State hired Hazell in December 2010 and led the Golden Flashes to a 5-7 mark (4-4 MAC) and a third-place finish in his first season as a head coach. This year, Hazell’s squad went 11-2 (8-0) and won the MAC East, and he risked losing the Purdue job when he told school officials he would wait to discuss the vacancy until after the MAC championship game.
The Golden Flashes are set to play Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.
Hazell fits the mold of coach Burke outlined during a Nov. 25 news conference to announce the firing of Danny Hope.
“We are an offensive-minded program. That’s where we’ve made our mark over the years. I don’t see that under the circumstances changing,” Burke said during the news conference.
Hazell rebuilt Kent State’s program in just two years, largely on the strength of a strong ground game spearheaded by star Dri Archer. Purdue has preferred the up-tempo, fast-break style offense Joe Tiller brought to West Lafayette and that Hope kept.
Hazell spent seven seasons coaching Ohio State’s receivers, has a reputation as a strong recruiter and players have spoken glowingly about the passion and excitement he’s brought to the locker room.
The question is whether Hazell is a big enough name to fill the other area Burke wanted to shore up — attendance, which has steadily declined over the last five years, the last four under Hope.
“We’ve lost a third of the fan base. We’ve gone from about 54,000 paid attendance in 2007-08 to 37,000 this past year,” Burke said. “We can’t do what we need to do resource-wise with losing a third of the fan base.
Fans initially were clamoring for another MAC coach with Big Ten experience, Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren, who took the North Carolina State job after beating Kent State in the MAC championship game.
Burke also brought Cincinnati coach Butch Jones to campus Sunday afternoon, the day after the Bearcats clinched a share of a second straight Big East title. The next day, Jones flew to Colorado and was reportedly offered a five-year deal worth $13.5 million. Hope earned a Big Ten-low $950,000 in guaranteed compensation last year, though Burke acknowledged he was willing to spend more on his next coach.
Details of Hazell’s contract were not immediately available. He made a base salary of $300,000 with the Golden Flashes.
As word leaked of Colorado’s offer, Burke and a contingent of Purdue officials reportedly flew to northeastern Ohio, where they met with Hazell.
Hazell is the first black coach in Boilermakers history and will take over fulltime duties later this month. The Boilermakers (6-6, 3-5) are scheduled to play Jan. 1.
Hazell also has been an assistant at Rutgers, West Virginia, Army, Western Michigan, Penn, Eastern Illinois and Oberlin College in Ohio. He was inducted into the Muskingum College hall of fame in 1993.
Burke had already said receivers coach Patrick Higgins will coach the Boilermakers in their bowl game.