Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Where's the mustache?

I was thinking a while back that Darrell Hazell must have amazingly bad timing: He was Ohio State's receivers coach/assistant head coach for six years before finally getting a head coaching gig at Kent State in December 2010, about six months before Jim Tressel became CheatyPants McSweatervest and Luke Fickell ascended to a job that never should've been his. So Fickell was coach at Ohio State and Hazell was relegated to one of the crappier programs in the MAC, which ... I mean ... that ain't right.

Except Ohio State ended up with Urban Meyer, which lol Luke Fickell, and Hazell ended up doing this with a program that had gone 29-53 with zero above-.500 seasons in seven years under Doug Martin:

2011: 5-7 overall, 4-4 MAC
2012: 11-2 overall, 8-0 MAC

Oh. OK then. And if not for a devastating double-overtime loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game, it'd be Kent State (Kent State!) and not NIU going to the freakin' Orange Bowl after having been to zero bowls of any kind in 40 years (40 years!). As it is, Kent State is going to some irrelevant bowl game, which is still notable since a bowl game is a bowl game, and Hazell is coaching at Purdue:
Purdue has hired Darrell Hazell as its new football coach.

Hazell won this season's Mid-American Conference coach of the year award after leading Kent State to its first winning season since 2001, first bowl appearance in more than four decades and the brink of a BCS bowl game.
FYI, he did those things the same way pretty much every successful MAC coach does those types of things: running some variation of the spread and benefiting from general MAC chaos. It should be noted that Kent State's only regular-season loss was by 33 to a terrible Kentucky team that didn't win another FBS game, so 2012 Kent State wasn't 2008 Utah or something. Still, the apples-to-apples results were impressive: unbeaten in the MAC, only two wins by fewer than 11 points, etc.

That success-type stuff was largely the result of a conference-obliterating spread-based run game that finished 17th nationally in yardage at 228 yards a game, with Dri Archer and Trayion Durham each putting up about 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. So that's pretty good. The overall numbers were slightly less impressive because of the lack of a passing game (110th in passing yards) -- 75th in total yards and 34th in scoring -- but still not bad. For a major-conference comparable, think Northwestern/Michigan/Ohio State. And considering that Hazell's spent his entire career as a running backs coach/receivers coach (including the aforementioned years at Ohio State as Tresselball became a bastardized spread version of Bollmanboll), it's reasonable to assume that he took on a relatively significant role in the offense's development.

That's good for Purdue considering what the offense became toward the end of the Danny Hope era. Outside of a respectable run game in 2010, the offense was really not good at anything over Hope's final three years, with the passing game becoming almost totally irrelevant, and athletic director Morgan Burke basically said at Hope's firing presser that THIS IS PURDUE, FERGODSAKES. A related quote from Burke at Hazell's introduction:
"I just thought we wouldn't get the fan base excited if we line up and play like Wisconsin, you know, and (Jim Tressel) said, 'You won't have any trouble with that -- (Hazell) was trying to get me to throw the ball all the time.' ...

"It is clear that he appreciates the Cradle of Quarterbacks tradition, and it will remain a focal point of our program."
So the Kent State numbers might not be totally indicative of what Hazell wants to do offensively but more of what he's willing to do based on personnel. Either way, Purdue's offense should get better to some yet-to-be-determined degree. The defense is less of a certainty; Jon Heacock (brother of former Ohio State D-coordinator Jim Heacock) did OK as coordinator at Kent State, although the defense definitely regressed some from 2011 to 2012, but what matters more is whether Hazell can draw on those Ohio State connections to assemble a legit staff at Purdue, a place that traditionally hasn't spent any significant money on head coaches, let alone assistants.

That said, Hazell is getting a seven-fold pay increase from $300K to $2 million a year, which dang. And assembling a legit staff will be a necessity if Burke was saying this was a straight face:
"We did it because we want to get back to Pasadena," Burke said.
Yeeeaaahhh. About that: Purdue has been to two Rose Bowls in its history, one of those being in 2001 with Drew Brees (finding another one of those isn't a viable strategy) and the other being in 1966 with Bob Griese (see the first half of this sentence).

I wrote this after Hope's firing:
With Ohio State and Wisconsin being what they are, Purdue is no better than the third-best program in the conference, and that's to say nothing of having to go through Michigan or Nebraska or whoever in the Big Ten title game if the stars were to align for a division title at some point in foreseeable future. Tiller made a career out of going 8-4, and that's probably about all that can be expected. ...

That's obviously preferable to trying to maintain success at Louisiana Tech/Kent State/Ball State, though; there are worse things than being at a Big Ten program where 7-5 is fine and an occasional New Year's Day bowl game is even better. There are also better things, which is why nobody's ever really done better than the scenario laid out in the previous sentence. Purdue is Purdue; its enticing-ness is all relative (and will be until/unless somebody comes along and turns those occasional New Year's Day bowl games into regular ones).
And that's the deal. Purdue is Purdue, which hasn't won 10 games in more than 30 years but has won fewer than five games just once since Joe Tiller was hired in 1997. This is Purdue (and all sportswriters everywhere):

Not being mediocre at Purdue is really hard; it's also why Hazell's now getting paid $2 million a year in hopes that he's the 10-years-later version of Urban Meyer at Bowling Green (the resumes are actually pretty comparable, all things considered, although Hazell is slightly older now at 48). Even if he is Meyer, though, having Meyer-esque success probably isn't a reasonable expectation given Purdue's status in the Big Ten; getting back to the Tiller-guaranteed 8-4 seems a lot more reasonable.


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