Kent State AD Nielsen talks about search for new football coach

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n Editor's Note: The following was written by Kent State University athletic director Joel Nielsen specifically for his official blog, which can be found at www.kentstatesports.com.

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As the process of searching for a new head football coach unfolds this time around, one of the things I have been talking to the candidates about is the difference in selling the position now versus two years ago.

After a 40-year bowl drought, we are about to play in a bowl game. Not only that, but we won the Mid-American Conference East Division title, played in the MAC Championship Game, and we went undefeated in the league during the regular season. Any one of those three accomplishments would have had a significant impact on this hiring process. But when you put all three of them together I think it has meant something special this time around.

The other thing we have now is a belief mechanism that it can be done. When Darrell Hazell and I sat down two years ago, we talked to each other about taking a leap of faith. He needed to take a leap of faith in Kent State, in me and in our program. And in turn, I was taking a leap of faith with him since he didn't have a background as a head coach. But I was confident he could do it.

There may still be a little bit of a leap of faith required this time around because it is not as though we have won for six straight years and gone to six straight bowl games. We don't have that behind us. Yet there is a little bit of a different sale considering Darrell Hazell came in here and got it done in two years with essentially the student-athletes who were already at Kent State when he arrived. It's not as though he purged the roster and brought in all of his own guys. There are obviously a few of his guys sprinkled within the roster.

The success Darrell Hazell had here shows the power of belief as a characteristic in humans. If they believe things can get done, they get them done. That's great leadership.

The success we had galvanizes my belief that leadership is the first and foremost quality I am looking for in a head coach. We have great talent at Kent State. We've always had great talent at Kent State if you look up and down our roster in the NFL. I am looking for the same leadership capacity and belief system that has been instilled by coach Hazell and his staff.

Ever since the announcement that Darrell Hazell was going to Purdue, I've spent the last seven-to-ten days contacting people in the business who I respect. We were able to secure the services of Todd Turner and his group very early in the process. Many people recognize that name as the former athletic director at Washington, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State and Connecticut. Todd has been extremely helpful. I probably talk to him a half a dozen times a day to make sure we have all of the reference checks done and to make sure we are looking at the right people.

I've been out personally talking with those individuals and have had some great conversations. It is kind of interesting that some of the candidates are the same ones we contacted two years ago. They have done great things in the past two years and remain on the list as very viable candidates while other new names have bubbled up. Some of those new candidates have come to us, and then we have reached out to others.

It has been a very rewarding process so far. I'm very happy with the candidates who are involved in the process. It's very fluid. Some are going on the list. Some are coming off. We expect in the upcoming week we'll start what I would call the second-round interviews and move expeditiously to get this next head coach in position. Time is of the essence, but we are going to take our time and get the right guy. Two years ago, we probably met with between eight and ten candidates. This time around it has been six or eight. I don't know how many exactly will get to that second round.

The situation existed a couple of years ago here where we knew we needed to make an investment in the head coaching position and in the assistant coaches. Through Matt Geis and a commitment from President Lester Lefton, we were able to raise a lot of money in a fundraising campaign just for football.

We have raised over $2.5 million to date, and a majority of the money spinning off each year goes towards salaries. That has allowed us to raise the salaries of the head coach and assistants significantly. It is not where it needs to be, and we understand that. But obviously with success and what we have been able to accomplish in the last couple of years, we are in a position to revisit the salary of the head coach and the assistant pool. I'm hopeful that our donors step up to see that we compete in the market place for the best people.

We raised the head coach's salary two years ago by $100,000. When we started that process, we were 13th in the MAC in head-coaching pay. We finished this year still 13th in head coaching pay. But it is important to note that the extra $100,000 has moved us much closer to the median in the MAC, and that's our target. We would like to be at the top, but we started at 13th and two years later we are still 13th. Any movement up would be a positive sign, and I certainly expect our donors and our people externally to help us get there. Thanks for supporting our Golden Flashes and Happy Holidays.

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