Is the guy who turned one of the worst programs in the history of college football into a player on the national scene ready to leave the cradle of coaches for the big time?
Often referred to as "the cradle of coaches," the MAC gave the world Urban Meyer, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, and ACC champion Jim Grobe, among many others. We have already profiled back-to-back MAC champion Dave Doeren, who is the "it" coach on the national radar and is likely destined to add his name to the list of Mid-American alum to move on to the big time. The league has another gem in Kent State's Darrel Hazell.
Though his name has not been linked to the N. C. State opening as frequently as Doeren and the WAC's Sonny Dykes, Hazell's record-breaking performance merits inclusion in the POAPS series.
Let's get to it:
1. Has he coached teams that have won a conference title, made multiple bowl games, and/or consistently been highly ranked?
Not quite. The Golden Flashes rallied from a two-touchdown deficit with a 98-yard scoring drive and scoop and score fumble return to send the MACtion! Championship into overtime but ultimately came up short against Northern Illinois and possible savior Doeren's Huskies. Kent State will have to wait for its second conference championship ever, but Hazell did lead the squad to the national rankings for the first time since 1973 and, had they triumphed Friday night, the Golden Flashes had an outside shot at crashing the BCS party.
Despite the loss, Kent State will go bowling for just the second time in program history. That breaks down to one bowl game every 25.5 years.
2. Has he built a program from the ground up?
Only Florida International and Eastern Michigan have a worse winning percentage than Kent State among current FBS programs, and, combined, those Johnny-come-lately programs have played less games in the FBS than Kent State. Simply put, the Golden Flashes are the worst "major" college football program ever, and Hazell has taken them to unprecedented levels of success. The team's 11 wins bettered the previous program record by two.
Obviously Hazell did not start the program, and he has only been there for two seasons, so the players he coaches were largely assembled by his predecessor, Doug Martin. Though he did not build the program "from the ground up," it's safe to say he made them relevant for the first time in a very long time (if not ever).
3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?
If you read questions one and two, you already know the answer to this one, but it simply cannot be emphasized enough how much the program is improved. Kent State has not been to a bowl since 1972, and it lost that lone bowl appearance, the Tangerine, to something called the Tampa Spartans. If the Golden Flashes have another winning season next year, it will be the first time they have had back-to-back winning campaigns since 1976-77, and the 2012 winning season is just their third such season since 1977. Additionally, when Kent State beat Rutgers it was the program's first ever win over a ranked opponent.
4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?
No, the Kent State job is his first job as a head coach.
5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?
Very much so. Hazzell has made eight stops as an assistant, most notably as the wide receivers coach for Jim Tressel at Ohio State for seven seasons. He also coached receivers at Rutgers under Greg Schiano and running backs at West Virginia under Don Nehlen, so he has learned from some pretty successful mentors.
6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?
7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?
All normal caveats about the level of competition apply, but it appears Hazell's Flashes do get after it reasonably well on defense, particularly against the run. In his first season, Hazell held opponents to 3.45 yards per rush, 25th best in the nation, and the 3.76 yards they had allowed entering the MAC title game is good for 34th. Their scoring defense has been in the top 50 in both of his seasons, and FEI defensive efficiency rankings have pegged them 35th and 36th over the past two years.
With three takeaways in the MAC title game, Hazell's opportunistic defense has forced 38 turnovers on the season, which ties Oregon for tops in the FBS. Turnovers are a fickle animal though, and Kent State has been rather lucky to collect over 70% of opponents' fumbles. Doug Martin's last Kent State defense surrendered 22.9 points per game, a shade better than either of Hazell's units, and Martin's 2010 unit allowed just 2.69 yards per rush, finishing second in the nation in run stuffing stinginess. Especially if they had to go without the turnover luck, one could argue that Kent State's defenses are actually backsliding a tad bit under Hazell's watch.
8. Any indication that he can recruit ACC-level (or above) talent?
The same recruiting concerns apply to Hazell as previous POAPS entries Doeren and Dykes. Not only do none of these gentleman have experience recruiting as a head coach in a BCS conference, they also have few if any ties to the ACC footprint, though looking at Hazell's classes shows that he has mined some talent from Florida and Georgia, and certainly Ohio qualifies as a recruiting hotbed (if not exactly ACC country). Still, Hazell will have to make connections in the Carolinas quickly to upgrade N. C. State's talent level. Unfortunately, the Highly Caffeinated Fedora Express has a year head start and an exciting offense to sell area recruits.
Though we should probably take Hazell's class rankings at Kent State with a grain of salt, the numbers are not impressive. According to Rivals, his first full class ranked 99th and his current class is 102nd.
9. Does his offense run more than five plays?
Hazell plays to the strengths of his personnel. Spencer Keith is a marginally serviceable quarterback, so the team relies heavily on a thunder and lightning backfield combination of Trayion Durham and Dri Archer. Durham (1,176), a 230-pound wrecking ball, and Archer (1,337), who reputedly has 4.2 speed, both eclipsed the thousand-yard mark in the regular season. Archer averaged an insane 9.7 yards per carry. If you can get 10 yards a pop on the ground, why would you throw it? Hazell's team ran it nearly 20 more times than it passed it on a per game basis in 2012.
Before Archer's arrival, Hazell's offense sputtered in 2011. The team managed just three yards per carry, putting pressure on Keith to make plays, and he did not deliver, completing just 51% of his passes and registering a dismal 100.8 QB rating. The team managed just 17.1 points per game but doubled that total in Hazell's second year. If Hazell comes to State, perhaps he can bring Archer with him.
In an article on westcoastoffense.com, Flash offensive coordinator Brian Rock explained his offensive philosophy: "We want to be balanced and unpredictable, blending the run with the pass from a variety of looks using different combinations of personnel, formations, shifting, and motion." As Hazell's coordinator, this philosophy is delivered from a somewhat watered down spread offense. Both Hazell and Rock have experience as wide receiver coaches and no doubt hope to chuck it more if they can find a quarterback with the requisite skills for their system. It is very impressive that they have scored 34 points a game without that key piece of the puzzle.
10. Does he have any connection to NC State, the state of North Carolina, or the ACC?
No, no he does not. Hazell was born in New Jersey and pretty much all of his coaching experience has been in Yankee territory or the Midwest, though I suppose such regions are becoming part of the new ACC.
11. Any other random red flags or positives?
Hazell has had a remarkable two-year run as a head coach, but he has only two years of head coaching experience, and, unlike Doeren and Dykes, he never served as a coordinator at a BCS program.
Dr. Yow has indicated that she wants a squeaky clean candidate with no history of running afoul with the NCAA, but Hazell was at Ohio State for much of the shenanigans that ended up keeping an undefeated Buckeye squad out of the national championship conversation in 2012. His very brief head coaching experience and his association to scandal may well be enough to disqualify him from consideration.
Would he be better than TOB?
Hazell appears to be an excellent motivator. Getting a moribund program with Kent State's history to believe it could win is, dare I say, Jimmy V level awesome. Bringing in someone with Hazell's relatively light résumé would definitely be a gamble. Hopefully his clear passion and enthusiasm for the game would lead to a talent infusion, and, more importantly, his AMP motivational style would address the peaks and valleys problem that plagued TOB teams. State simply did not show up to play under O'Brien every week.
Of the candidates profiled so far, Hazell seems the most unknown, which makes me think that his floor is probably lower than other potential options, but his unprecedented run at Kent State indicates the potential to do the same here. Bottom line: Boom! or Bust!
Would he be better than Chuck?
Darrell Hazell does not lose to Akron.
Would he take the job if offered?
Hazell is making 300K, which is well over a million dollars less than the average FBS coach. Money talks.
How would I feel if he were hired?
I would feel like I was going on a blind date.
How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?
Perhaps even more so than Doeren, Hazell is not exactly a household name among average fans. His hire would likely be met with cautious optimism from most, but many fans would think Dr. Yow had missed out on bigger fish.
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How old is this dude?
Hazell is 48, making him the old man of the mid-major possible saviors profiled so far, but he is certainly youthful enough to have many, many years on the sidelines left before he grumpily folds his arms and acts like an unhappy grandfather who has been dragged off the La-Z-Boy and forced to attend his grandson's birthday party. Not that there are any recent State coaches that behaved thusly during games.
Does a Google image search of the man inspire confidence? If not, what does it inspire?
Hazell looks like he could still play until he puts a hat on. What is the deal with the way he bends the bill? It makes him look 20 years older and slightly crazy, but at least he doesn't wear a visor.