With the news coming out of Madison at the beginning of December it's easily forgivable if you forgot that Purdue also was without a coach in early December. However, their hire came quick as the Boilermakers made a splash in announcing Darrell Hazell from Kent State as the next leader of the Boilermakers football program.
Purdue not only got themselves a hot coaching name in Hazell, but they also finally opened up the checkbook a little, reportedly hiring Hazell for around $2 million a year, a far cry from the under $1 million that pervious head coach Danny Hope was making.
Is that a signal the athletic department is ready to finally play with the big boys in the Big Ten? Only time will tell, but the Boilermakers are at least willing to give it a shot and that's all you can ask for following the ho-hum Hope era in West Lafayette.
Why We Like the Hire
Hazell is Big Ten through and through and he comes into this program with the full knowledge of what it takes to win at Purdue and in the conference thanks to his seven seasons as an assistant with the Ohio State Buckeyes under Jim Tressell. He was thought to be the heir apparent to Tressell before Tattoogate hit Columbus and he split for the Kent State gig after that season. That alone should tell you just how highly thought of Hazell is in coaching circles and if he was good enough to possibly take over the Buckeyes that's all we really should need as a "stamp of approval."
His ties to OSU means he's got a lot of recruiting ties in the Midwest and that should help him to hit the ground running in terms of upping the talent level on this team. Thankfully the cupboard isn't completely bare, but we'll get into that a bit later.
We also like the fact that he was able to take a team full of players that weren't his originally and remake this team into a winner, going 11-2 this season and nearly crashing the BCS party. If that's not a sign of a good football coach, I don't know what is. Hazell was 16-9 in his two seasons at the helm of the Golden Flashes and that's impressive enough in it's own right for a program that really hasn't been good, well, ever really.
Why We Don't Like the Hire
He's only been a head coach for two seasons and while he turned around a once morbid program at Kent State there's a big difference between doing it in the MAC and doing it in the Big Ten. Really, for Purdue that is the only question honestly. Otherwise this hire is about as slam dunkish as possible at this point in time.
What Kind of Talent Does He Inherit?
This is the interesting part because Hazell has some talent on board, but it could also be talent leaving early for the NFL draft in corner Ricardo Allen. If he loses Allen this team will really be in trouble at the skill positions. Only one QB will be back and that could be a good thing for a team that often times featured three QB's in a single game.
Hazell will need to mold this team quickly, but there is young talent on this team that he can build around as well. Names like Akeem Hunt and Robert Henry could be big time players in the system Hazell will bring to the Boilermakers. Perhaps the biggest help to him is that the special teams are in great hands with Cody Webster at Punter and Paul Griggs at Kicker.
Yeah, But Can He Recruit?
Purdue isn't the easiest of places to recruit to, but it's not impossible. I mean it didn't get the nickname as the "Cradle of Quarterbacks" for nothing. Having said that Hazell could have his work cut out for him with the rising status of Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers down south and a nationally relevant Notre Dame program to contend with in South Bend. Indiana suddenly is a tough place to compete for recruits.
Anytime you rise to the level Hazell did at Ohio State you have to have proven yourself on the recruiting trail, so there shouldn't be any worries there. The better news for a program like Purdue is that Hazell has proven he can find the best in players that may not be ranked as high as some others while also landing the big fish at OSU.
Hazell had one three star commitment coming in for the Golden Flashes in the 2013 class and that's not an easy feat to say the least. Purdue fans shouldn't have any worries at this point as to the recruiting prowess of Hazell. Add in the fact that it appears Hazell has been able to hold together much of the class that was committed to Purdue, including four star QB Danny Etling and you have the proof you need he's a good enough recruiter.
There is a lot to like in this hire for both sides. Hazell has paid his dues and proven he can win in places that you aren't supposed to be able to win in. He's also got strong ties to the Big Ten and should have intimate knowledge of what it will take to win in West Lafayette. Purdue couldn't ask for much better, especially compared to the under whelming hire of Danny Hope four years ago. Time will obviously tell if he can be a success, but there shouldn't be any reason this team can't compete to be in the upper half of the Leaders division in the next year or so under Hazell's leadership.
Coaching Grade: B +