Darrell Hazell led Kent State to 11 regular season wins, its first bowl game in 40 years and the brink of the Bowl Championship Series. His efforts there earned the attention of Purdue, which will introduce Hazell as its new head coach during a press conference this afternoon at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Hazell hire is an important one for Purdue, who gets a coach with unprecedented success at an impossible-to-succeed location. His addition to the Big Ten also has major cultural implications for the conference. Hazell is the Big Ten’s only black head coach, and just the fourth in the conference’s history. Adam Rittenberg took a fascinating look at the conference’s lack of coaching diversity last winter.
Hurdles ahead of black coaches are problematic, and surface every year around this time. This season’s coaching carousel has brought particular attention to an issue that needs greater discussion, with Kentucky firing Joker Phillips after just three seasons, and Colorado dumping Jon Embree after only two. Embree brought up several worthwhile points at his press conference following his dismissal, specifically that precedent shows a fired black head coach is less likely to earn another opportunity. Ty Willingham is the lone exception to this unfair rule.
The Big Ten has gone a decade without a black head coach. As mentioned in the Rittenberg piece, the last was Michigan State’s Bobby Williams, afforded all of three seasons in East Lansing after taking over for Nick Saban. He is now the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Alabama.
Athletic administrators, feeling pressure from overzealous boosters and boisterous fan bases, give coaches very little time to prove their worth. Hazell has proven he can turn a program around in short order, though, going 16-9 in his two seasons at historically bad Kent State.
Hazell succeeds Danny Hope, who was fired after four seasons and a 22-27 record. Purdue is headed to its second consecutive bowl game, but underachieved with a veteran roster and preseason buzz as a Big Ten title contender. A 6-6 campaign when the conference was decidedly down was not enough to give Hope a fifth season.
Hope replaced Joe Tiller, who led the Boilermakers from 1997 until his retirement in 2008. Tiller had just two losing seasons his entire tenure, the second of which came in his final campaign. He took Purdue to 10 bowl games, including the Rose in 2000 behind Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Drew Brees.
Purdue turns to Hazell to restore the consistency enjoyed under Tiller, and to contend for Rose Bowl berths as it did under his guidance. The program has spent New Year’s in Pasadena just twice, the first coming in the 1966 season. Though hardly associated with Big Ten supremacy, the notion Hazell could make the Boilers BCS contenders isn’t exactly far fetched — he was an overtime loss away from the Orange Bowl this season, after all.
Hazell’s Golden Flashes thrived offensively behind do-everything running back Dri Archer, whose multifaceted style worked well with powerful rusher Trayion Durham. Kent State’s use of Durham would fit nicely with the traditional concept of Big Ten football.
Moreover, Kent State stood out in a Mid-American Conference known for high powered offenses because of its defense. The Golden Flash linebacker corps was one of the most productive in the nation. A similar defensive approach should work well in the Big Ten.