On the surface, the news that Purdue athletics officials have reportedly decided to retain football coach Darrell Hazell for another year might seem both surprising and confounding. If the best way to determine a coach's value is measured by how many wins his program has, then Hazell has failed to adequately justify his salary in three seasons.
Hazell's record is just 6-26 (.188 winning percentage), which gives him the lowest winning percentage in school history for a coach at Purdue longer than one season. Purdue's 55-45 victory against Nebraska last Saturday snapped the Boilermakers' 12-game losing streak against FBS programs and moved Hazell's Big Ten record to 2-18. It also marked the school's first home victory against a league opponent since former head coach Danny Hope's final game in 2012.
Those numbers generally are not what many would consider worthy of retention, particularly in an ever-impatient college football culture that demands immediate results. Yet none of those numbers is as important right now to the university as this one: 6.6 million.
That's roughly the amount Hazell would be owed as part of a buyout package if Purdue fired its coach at the end of the season. Hazell has three years remaining on his original contract, which does not expire until Dec. 31, 2018, and he is guaranteed the full sum, minus bonuses.
Keeping Hazell around for another year represents the most logical, low-risk move for a university that has no intention of giving away all that money. Why not see if Hazell can turn around the team in Year 4 so Purdue can acquire at least some return on its investment?
If Purdue fired Hazell, who makes about $2.2 million annually, the university would be paying two head coaches next season. And it seems unlikely the Boilermakers would save much money, if any, by hiring a new coach. According to the USA Today salary database, the average salary for all 14 Big Ten head coaches who began the season was $3.05 million. That figure includes Illinois interim coach Bill Cubit's $915,000 salary. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood's $1.25 million salary was the lowest among full-time head coaches in the league. Purdue currently pays the 10th-highest amount to its football coach among Big Ten schools.
Of course, Boilermakers fans up in arms about the decision must also realize the news does not mean Purdue is offering Hazell a contract extension at this time. It merely assures the school will continue to honor his current contract for one more year. If Purdue plays poorly into next season, the buyout would be lowered to $4.6 million, which would perhaps be a more manageable figure.
Purdue's decision essentially provides a temporary stopgap, giving Hazell the knowledge he has another shot to lift the Boilermakers to the same prominence he experienced at Kent State, where he turned the Golden Flashes from a 5-7 team in Year 1 to an 11-3 team in Year 2. But questions persist.
At some point, Purdue will have to decide whether Hazell is worth retaining past 2018. It does not reflect well on recruiting when a head coach doesn't receive an extension, particularly because those players will be committing to a school for the next four or five years. Athletics director Morgan Burke also could try to renegotiate Hazell's buyout to a more palatable sum. Hope was granted a two-year extension in 2011 but was fired in 2012. Though he made $950,000 annually, his buyout was $600,000.
Purdue is at least attempting to move in the right direction by upgrading its indoor athletics facility. Last month, the school announced a $60 million upgrade project, with construction scheduled to begin in May 2016. Board of trustees president Michael Berghoff said then that the move was made, at least in part, to help Hazell build a winning program. The idea was that the project would help improve recruiting and ultimately lead to a better football team.
Hazell, meanwhile, understands the task he has in front of him. After Purdue lost 24-7 to Wisconsin two weeks ago, he said the team would have to reflect on the first part of the season heading into a bye week and "come back even hungrier than we've ever been."
"I think that's very key for us," he said. "I told the guys I think the most important thing is that we stay together. Don't point fingers. Look in the mirror and figure out solutions to some of the things that we have to get fixed."
Hazell might have begun that process with a crucial victory against Nebraska. Now he'll have another year with the school's support to find out whether he can keep it going.