Search begins again for KSU's Nielsen

By ALLEN MOFF | staff writer Published:

As the search for a new football coach begins once again, Kent State Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen is faced with the daunting task of trying to locate and land 'the next Darrell Hazell.'

"I don't think we'll find another Darrell Hazell," said Nielsen, who lured Hazell away from his position as an assistant coach at Ohio State two years ago. "But I'm very confident we'll find someone with the same kind of qualities and integrity, and the willingness to work with us knowing that we're far from a finished product here based on our history and our tradition.

"It's a little bit different job now than it was two years ago, because there was an uncertainty of whether we could get it done here. Darrell's now proven that we can get it done."

Nielsen's search for a new head coach will begin immediately, and may start with a pair of members of the current staff: Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock and offensive coordinator Brian Rock.

Heacock is an extremely well-respected mentor who has previous head coaching experience, compiling a 60-44 record from 2001-09 after taking over for Jim Tressel at Youngstown State. Rock is also well-regarded and has nearly 30 years of coaching experience, including stints at Western Michigan and Purdue.

"We have a great staff, and I'm fully aware of those guys," said Nielsen. "They've all been here for two years, so I know them quite well. I would hope that some do apply. We'd take a good look at them."

Some of Kent State's assistant may be invited to join Hazell at Purdue. Heacock and Rock are obvious candidates, along with linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and strength coach Doug Davis among others.

Hazell has not yet made any decisions regarding his staff at Purdue, and would not name a favorite candidate as his successor.

"There are a lot of quality guys on my staff here at Kent State, and a lot of them are head coach possibilities," he said.

Flashes junior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix said the players hadn't really discussed their favorite candidate to take over for Hazell.

"There hasn't been any talk about a new coach. It's way too early for that," said Nix. "We've still got a month left with coach (Hazell) and our other coaches. We'll try not to think about the negatives, and just try to build on the good times."

Hazell's salary of $300,000 was the lowest in the Mid-American Conference, but Nielsen said the Flashes' success this season may give them the ability to offer candidates a better financial package.

"I haven't talked to (Kent State President Lester Lefton) about that, but that will come up -- based on the quality of the candidates, what the offer should and can be," said Nielsen. "When we offered (Hazell) two years ago I think we jumped the head coach up $100,000. I'm not so confident we'll see that kind of jump again, but if we need to look at it we will."

Nielsen is prepared to be patient, but believes he'll have his new football coach before long.

"I think it took us a couple weeks to get through the initial process two years ago, then we brought three in for interviews," said Hazell. "If we could get it done before the holiday season that would be great, but I'm not gonna put any time-table on it. With coach Hazell coaching through the bowl season I feel confident we'll be able to keep things going they way they need to go."

NO WAY TO MAKE HIS STAY

Hazell spent part of Tuesday evening at Nielsen's home, where the KSU AD discussed possible ways to keep him at Kent State.

"We talked a lot about that, about what we'd have the ability to do," said Nielsen. "We also talked about the proposed offer from Purdue, and about a lot of other positions that are open or could have come open. We've always had that kind of relationship."

In the end, there was no way Kent State could come anywhere close to matching the offer Hazell received from Purdue.

"It's been the history of this league, when you have successful coaches they often times get other opportunities," said Nielsen. "I think when I hired Darrell I thought that if he could do what we thought we could do here that he'd be a hot commodity out there, and obviously he was after two years. I didn't know we'd be 11-1, but I thought we'd win."

RUMORS ANGER HAZELL

Rumors were running wild on websites and on twitter starting on Tuesday around 4 p.m., when the first reports out of Purdue began indicating that Hazell had accepted the job. Those reports infuriated Hazell, who said that he did not actually accept the job until 9 p.m.

"I was really disturbed when it was released that I had accepted the job at 4:30. That was not the case," said Hazell. "So then I had to respond to my players who were texting me. I want information to be accurate that's out there, but unfortunately that's the world that we live in today. Someone passes along a message that is inaccurate, then it's magnified throughout the country.

"That was hard, because now I had to deal with all of those issues. But that's the world we live in today."

THIRD TIME'S A CHARM

Hazell spoke with Purdue officials just three times before accepting the job, and never actually interviewed on campus.

"I had one phone conversation last week, and I said I didn't want to do anything before the MAC Championship Game (last Friday)," he said. "Then I had my conversations Monday and (Tuesday)."

What exactly attracted Hazell to Purdue?

"Obviously it's a BCS conference (Big Ten), it's a school with great academics, and with a ton of possibilities for success on the football field," said Hazell. "They needed some energy out there at this point in time, and I explained to them what I needed to be successful. It was a good marriage."

MAC COACHES EVERYWHERE

Five of the 12 Big Ten head coaches next year previously were head coaches in the MAC: Hazell, Ohio State's Urban Meyer (Bowling Green), Michigan's Brady Hoke (Ball State), Minnesota's Jerry Kill (Northern Illinois) and Illinois' Tim Beckman (Ball State). Both coaches in this year's BCS Championship Game also come from the MAC: former Kent State player Nick Saban (Toledo) of Alabama and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly (Central Michigan).

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