Darrell Hazell noted that the first national attention his Kent State team received this season was when Andre Parker ran the wrong way on a punt return on opening night.
Things turned out pretty well after that, as the Golden Flashes went 11-2 in Hazell's second season and he won MAC coach of the year honors. Hazell hopes to get Purdue running in the right direction as well.
He was introduced as the Boilermakers new coach on Wednesday night in a press conference, and Hazell talked about big goals.
"Here's a program that's in the middle of the pack," he said. "But I want to be at the top of the pack, and quickly."
Athletic director Morgan Burke left no doubt where that top is, saying repeatedly that "I want to go back to Pasadena." Burke is banking that Hazell is the coach to take him there, literally. Hazell will make a reported $12 million in his six-year contract, much higher than Danny Hope's $900,000 salary and a 567 percent pay raise from his base salary of $300,000 at Kent State. When someone asked Hazell if he had the resources to hire a top-notch staff, Burke interrupted.
"We've got all the money he needs to go out and hire the best staff he needs," Burke said.
"I concur with that," Hazell added.
Hazell certainly won the press conference, as he comes across very well with clear, concise answers. Burke noted how impressed he was with Hazell's passion, and how he shook hands and made eye contact with every Purdue player on Wednesday afternoon. He said he's the kind of guy players love to play for, and that he also received a note from the mother of a former Ohio State player. It read, "Purdue people don't know what a gem they've gotten."
Hazell isn't ready to give up on Kent State yet. He said he would coach the Golden Flashes in their Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com Bowl and would return to that campus to coach practice the next two days. He'll divide his time between both schools, plus recruiting and some house shopping, before settling in Purdue for good on Jan. 7. It's an unusual approach, and most coaches cut off all ties (or have them cut off) once they take another job during bowl season. The worry for Purdue is that he won't have enough time to devote fully to the Boilers' cause for the next month, but you have to admire Hazell for not wanting to abandon his former team.
Some other notes from the news conference:
Does Hazell fit Burke's stated need for a coach who understands the school's history of quarterbacks? Hazell has been a Jim Tressel disciple, not a spread offense guy. But he told Burke that when he coached receivers at Ohio State, he was always advocating for the Buckeyes to throw the ball more to Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and others. Burke said Tressel told him, "He drove me crazy because he wanted to throw the ball all the time."
Speaking of Tressel, Hazell said he spoke with the former Ohio State coach three different times Tuesday night. "He's been an unbelievable guiding light for me," he said.
Hazell said his style of play will depend on the talent he has on hand. He told Burke that the current roster has been built for speed.
The Purdue fan base was very apathetic about Hope for the last half of the season. Hazell said he'd go around campus visiting dorms and fraternities if he needed to drum up support. "There needs to be an energy," he said.
On being the first African-American coach in the two major sports at Purdue and just the fourth African-American football head coach in the Big Ten, Hazell said, "I love making a difference in kids' lives. Race has something to do with it, but I don't put too much into that."