Since we're previewing Purdue this week, the big story in West Lafayette (besides ACL tears) is that they hired a new coach: Darrell Hazell.
Nobody really knows all that much about him, but Purdue fans seem excited. I don't know if that's because there's something about him that they really like or because it's just common practice to be excited about the new coach.
Hazell only has two years of head coaching experience, at the MAC's Kent State. He turned that program around by the second year (2012) and nearly brought the Golden Flashes their first bowl win in school history. Although he's 49, Hazell stands as one of the Big Ten's newest and most green coaches, so it's possible he has a lot of upside.
I was reading Peter Putzel's article on Purdue's upcoming schedule, and after some discussion about Purdue as a coaching job in the comments, I got to thinking about how Darrell Hazell might do at Purdue long term. So I thought I would lay out a few of the pros and cons of Darrell Hazell and what he brings to the Boilermakers. If I'm missing anything, be sure to bring it up in the comments!
Here's why Darrell Hazell could be successful at Purdue:
1. He seems made for the Big Ten.
Hazell primarily made a name for himself in Midwest and Big Ten coaching circles by being a wide receivers coach for Ohio State under Jim Tressel. He was there from 2004 to 2010, during Tressel's unshakable run of dominance, where the Buckeyes never lost more than 2 games a year. (Except in 2004, Hazell's first year, when they went 8-4.)
Hazell managed to escape Ohio State just before all the stuff with Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, and Tattoogate went down. He was happily working at his first head coaching gig in the MAC while Luke Fickell was roughing it in Columbus. (Before he left, Hazell was considered a possible successor to Tressel besides Fickell.)
So Hazell already has/had plenty of Big Ten experience. His other coaching stops as a position coach were primarily along the East Coast, at places like West Virginia and Rutgers. He is a New Jersey native.
At Kent State, Hazell primarily utilized a run-heavy offense that formation-wise did a lot of stuff under center. They used everything from Ace formations, I-formations, Pro formations, Pistol, and Shotgun, so it might be accurate to say that they were a multiple. They ran a grind-it-out tempo (i.e. huddle and all) characteristic of such teams as Alabama, Michigan, and Michigan State. That leads me to believe that they'll be running a pro-style offense at Purdue.
And it wasn't a passing pro-style at Kent State. The Golden Flashes were 13th in the MAC (i.e. last) in passing, but they were 2nd in rushing offense, with two 1,000 yard rushers in Dri Archer and Trayion Durham. Kent State was also the MAC's 2nd best team in rushing defense. On top of that, Hazell's team was incredibly disciplined by year two, where they stood atop the MAC rankings for turnover margin. If right now you're thinking that Hazell's Golden Flashes sound an awful lot like the Wisconsin Badgers under Bret Bielema (the Big Ten's least penalized team on the field), you'd probably be right. Maybe Barry Alvarez hired the wrong guy.
So, let's get this straight: a running, pro-style team that likes to grind it out, while being highly disciplined and obsessed with stopping the run? Sounds like Big Ten football to me.
2. The schedule in year one is manageable.
Though fellow Maize n' Brewer Peter Putzel believes Purdue has little chance of making it past four wins with the schedule in place for 2013, I actually don't think it's all that bad. Four of what are likely to be toss-up games are in West Lafayette: Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Iowa are all at home. The other home games against Indiana State, Northern Illinois, and Tim Beckman's Illinois are all winnable.
Meanwhile, its toughest road tests (Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State) are all programs going through changes. Cincinnati and Wisconsin are both transitioning to new coaches, and presumably new systems, Michigan State just got a new offensive coordinator, trying to find a quarterback and a running game, and Penn State is looking for Matt McGloin's replacement, which will likely end up being incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg. True, Purdue's going through some changes themselves, but it's hardly as cut-and-dry as to say they can't win any of those games.
3. Purdue will be moving to the easier division after 2013.
With Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State all lumped into the far more powerful East Division, which will host the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, Purdue's biggest annual challengers for the West Division will be Nebraska first, Wisconsin second, and Northwestern third. As of right now Purdue is down around the level of Iowa and Minnesota, hovering above Illinois, but it could eventually if not quickly ascend. Although the jury is still out on whether Hazell can make Purdue into an annual Big Ten title contender, being in the weaker division means more opportunities to win and play in bowl games, which are positive steps forward for the program.
Why Darrell Hazell might not be successful at Purdue:
1. He's just not that proven.
As much as Purdue fans remain hopeful that Hazell can do what he did for Kent State at Purdue and then some, he has not been a head coach in a BCS conference before taking the job in West Lafayette. This might seem like small potatoes if he turns out to be awesome, but the same was basically said of Tim Beckman and Illinois fans brushed it off.
Coaches like Jerry Kill, Pat Fitzgerald, and Kevin Wilson have shown that putting together a quality product in the Big Ten conference is hard work and takes time. You can't just walk in with nothing but wide-eyed, tobacco-chewin' enthusiasm and expect to win (Tim Beckman). While it's obvious Hazell's personality is far, far different from Beckman's, the point still stands that the job at Purdue will be Hazell's stiffest test yet. Having only been a head coach for two years, at a program where some ingenuity took the MAC by surprise, he doesn't have the experience to fall back on if tough times arise.
2. Purdue fans really aren't that patient.
By hiring Hazell, someone with a vastly different offensive and defensive philosophy than Purdue is used to, namely a pro-style offense and (if he runs the same defense as Kent State) a 3-3-5 defense, the football program has taken the path of completely starting over. Hazell has offensive weapons and talent to work with, but the question becomes how quickly can he get up to speed so that he's not in the hot seat before the end of year one or year two. The athletic department might give him three to four years, as they did for Danny Hope, but the fans won't. Purdue needs to fill the stadium sooner rather than later. Despite the fact that Hazell went 5-7 in his first year at Kent State before his breakout season in year two, if Purdue fans don't see relative progress early, they'll stop showing up for games.
3. Recruiting needs a jumpstart and a makeover.
Purdue has plenty to offer recruits as both a university and a football program. It's a well-respected academic institution and one of the Big Ten's original flagship members. It has that big drum thing and, though the moniker has faded since Drew Brees' departure, is sometimes called the "cradle of quarterbacks." In spite of these things, Purdue never got enough steam going on the recruiting trail under Danny Hope to get a leg up on Notre Dame (a prominent in-state power) or the Big Ten's elite.
Hazell took what he could get in his short time at Kent State, so there isn't much of a sample size to judge him on his recruiting prowess. His greater successes came from how he was able to transform the players on the field who were already there. As much as Hazell will work to make Purdue a contender in the short term, the tougher challenge will be establishing staying power for the long term, something which seems to come easier to seasoned coaches rather than new ones.
Offer your opinion in the comments! Purdue fans' perspective welcome!