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A Eulogy for Darrell Hazell

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It is hard to say what went wrong for Hazell, but we’ll try to figure it out.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As I said earlier today I think this is a really good hire and might be better than Butch Jones. He built something from nothing and with Wisconsin now in play it was critical for us to lock down one of the better candidates that was on the board. If anything, we took him away from a divisional rival that we have to play every year and already has our number.

Those are the words I wrote almost four years ago when Darrell Hazell was hired. At the time, it looked like an excellent hire. The national media was praising Purdue for making a good decision. Morgan Burke opened the checkbook to get him compared to what Danny Hope was paid. It looked like Purdue had some talent at every position and there was an experienced offensive line. We expected a lot from day 1.

It didn’t work out. Hazell got a 6-year contract and only made it three and a half years. His best season at 3-9 was worse than his predecessor’s worst year at 4-8 (which took a ton of injuries to achieve). From the very first game, a 42-7 loss at Cincinnati that was the most hyped regular season game since Indiana in 2000, his tenure was a disaster. His first team was probably the worst in school history and might have been one of the worst Big Ten teams ever. His best run came in year two, where he beat Illinois, played Michigan State close at home, and had a one point loss at Minnesota.

If that stretch goes just a little bit different, who knows. His teams could never sustain success and if you believe in positive momentum being a factor, Purdue could never sustain that, either. That stretch of Illinois-Michigan State-Minnesota was the best his teams ever played and the only time where it looked like a corner was being turned. Maybe if Purdue had won that Minnesota game it might have had them playing with some confidence. We will never know.

That was the largest problem with Hazell’s teams. They never truly got better. Game one featured a punchless offense that allowed the defense to wear down (remember, Purdue only trailed 14-7 at halftime in that game). That was still happening in year 3. Big Ten Network’s Tom Dienhart pulled no punches today:

Hazell’s hire was an absolute abomination. He was the worst coach in Purdue history. In fact, his tenure will go down as one of the worst in the history of the Big Ten—and arguably the most disastrous since Rick Venturi’s went 1-31-1 at Northwestern from 1978-80.

This was certainly not expected when he was hired in December 2012. Hazell had the backing of notable football minds like Jim Tressell (as well as technical football front office employee Ryan Grigson, who shouldn’t be in charge of a peewee team). In his final year at Kent State he went 11-2 and came within a touchdown of putting the Golden Flashes in a BCS bowl. That is really a larger miracle than what Purdue’s next coach must perform. Kent State is one of the worst FBS teams in America, has only one won conference championship (in 1971), and his appearance in a bowl game was their first in over 40 years. That it was nearly a BCS bowl as a MAC school is even more astounding.

On paper it looked good, but obviously, it went horribly wrong. Where did it go wrong, however?

Facilities - Burke may have opened the checkbook to get Hazell, but it remained clamped shut in terms of facilities until we broke ground on the football performance facility. There is little question Purdue is well behind the rest of the league in terms of facilities and commitment. The performance facility is a good start, but it was too late to save Hazell.

Recruiting - Hazell needed to out-recruit Danny Hope and he never did. He landed a few big four-stars in his first class like Dalyn Dawkins and Danny Etling, but both are playing elsewhere now. Etling and Gelen Robinson were the only four-star commitments he got according to Rivals, while Dawkins was a 4-star on Scout, and Leroy Clark and Keyante Green were 4-stars on ESPN to go with Elijah Sindelar. Of all those guys, only Clark and Robinson are currently playing for Purdue.

The recruiting never got better, either. Most of the players he brought in were limited impact guys. From his first class of 23 players a total of 13 are either benched, never made it to Purdue, were booted from the team, or have since moved to other schools. That is not a good rate for his first class. His second class is not doing much better, with only 8 of 19 guys currently getting regular playing time. These are the players that should have been molded to lead this team by now. Instead, many are gone or languishing on the bench.

Missing on Assistants - Jim Bollman is having a rough year this year, but as the co-offensive coordinator at Michigan State the last three years he has been part of a team that won two Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl, appeared in the College Football playoff, and was a key part of a team that went 36-5 leading into this season. For 30 days he was Purdue’s offensive line coach, but Michigan State poached him. The line has been a major issue during Hazell’s tenure, and we certainly could have used Bollman.

That was just one example. We have seen that John Shoop was a complete and utter disaster of an offensive coordinator and under him for 36 games the Purdue offense often could not get out of its own way. Things are better under Terry Malone, but not enough to overcome a defense that was bad under Greg Hudson and is worse under Ross Els. There have been a few bright spots. Tim Lester and Marcus Freeman look good, but for the most part the assistant coaches have done very little to help.

Much was made about Purdue never having an identity under Hazell and they were right. Shoop changed the entire methodology of the offense to actively avoid using any player’s strengths. The defense was often just putrid, couldn’t tackle, and was out of position. It made quite a mess, as the team struggled with the basic fundamentals of football most of the time.

The schedule - The overall schedule in year one did Hazell no favors at all. In the first nine games of the season Purdue played six teams (Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa) that have played in BCS level bowls since 2011. Cincinnati was also a conference champion. In 2015 Purdue played 6 teams that won 10 games or more. That stacked the deck against any coaching staff from the beginning.

As you can see, that is a lot against Purdue. I have no doubt Hazell is a nice guy. He has always seemed that way. We should have known in year one, however, that there were problems because there is no way a team that had been to two straight bowls should go 1-11 and look even worse in doing it. It wasn’t that Purdue lost against a tough schedule. It was that it looked like it barely knew what a football was or how to do anything on either side of the ball. Purdue took a swing and missed badly.

We do wish Hazell well though. We have attacked him here, but mostly for his inability to coach football games. We have no doubt he is a good guy, but he just happened to be a very well compensated lousy football coach when it came to a power 5 program. He is now financially set for life and doesn’t have to work again if he manages his money right, so it could be worse. Wherever he ends up, we wish him well, but we’re glad he is gone because boy, the trial of him as a Big Ten coach was a failure.