By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
When it comes to choosing head coaches, Kent State’s football program has paid dearly for overlooking its own in the past.
Every loyal Golden Flashes follower will tell you the stories of Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel, members of the program’s only Mid-American Conference championship team in 1972, who both clamored to become the leader of their alma mater back when their coaching careers were just beginning to bud.
Both of those men went on to become extremely successful head coaches, starting at MAC rival Toledo, while Kent State’s football program crashed and burned after head coach Glen Mason was lured away by the University of Kansas following the 1987 season.
That’s why the Flashes’ faithful are especially fired up about the hiring of Paul Haynes.
Haynes was officially named head coach at Kent State on Tuesday, returning to his alma mater 25 years after he first joined the Golden Flashes football program as a preferred walk-on. He wound up receiving a scholarship before the first game of his freshman season in 1987, which he started at defensive back.
Haynes, known as ‘Ice’ during his playing days, went on to become a four-year starter and led the team in tackles as a sophomore and junior. He finished his career as Kent State’s seventh-leading tackler with 440 stops.
Eight of Haynes’ former KSU teammates attended Tuesday’s news conference: Andy Logan, Jamie Howell, Chip Curtis, Brien Naylon, Fermin Olivera, Ray Carroscia, Greg Wagner and Joe Dalpra. They spearheaded an onslaught of emails and Facebook posts directed at the KSU administration calling for the braintrust to choose one of their own this time around.
“Those guys are really high on (Haynes). They really like the man,” said Flashes Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen.
Haynes was well aware of all the support he was receiving.
“When I emailed Mr. Nielsen that I was interested in this job, two of (his KSU teammates) called me and asked if I was interested in it. Then the floodgates opened,” said Haynes. “I was waiting to pull that out of my pocket with Joel, that it’s time to hire an alum. We passed on some other good ones.”
Nielsen wasn’t around when those decisions were made, but he’s well aware of what transpired.
“You’re going back to Pinkel and Saban and some of those stories that we’ve all heard,” he said. “Those particular (decisions) didn’t have any impact on hiring Paul, but what did have an impact was that you could tell he really wanted the job. He would have probably gotten this job without being an alum, but that was that extra ingredient, that sprinkle on top.”
With the hiring of Haynes, following a record-setting 2012 season, a long-divided Kent State football program may at last become united under a leader its faithful know and love. Then those past decisions, and all the losses that followed, can also finally be put to rest.
“We’re dusting all of our Kent State stuff off now cause we’re proud to wear it,” said Haynes. “People all over the country now are wearing their Kent State stuff with pride. And that’s what I see coming back here, all the pride that this university has now.”
Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel headed the list of former mentors Haynes mentioned that have impacted him the most.
“There are a lot of coaches that have impacted me. First and foremost is Jim Tressel,” said Haynes, who served as an assistant under Tressel from 2005-10. “I’ve called him about 20 times a day. Every time some type of job has happened, some type of move has happened, some type of decision that I have to make, he’s the first person I call.
“Also Dean Pees, Perry Fewell, Jon Hoke, John L. Smith, my high school coach Tony Pusateri, and also Stan Jefferson at Ohio State. All these guys have mentored me either has a coach or as a player to really teach me what coaching is about. It’s about relationships with players. That’s what I’m about.”
ARCHER UNCERTAIN ABOUT FUTURE
Kent State star speedster Dri Archer is still mulling whether to leave school after his junior season and enter the NFL Draft.
“I’ve been thinking about that for awhile. I get questions every day about it,” said Archer. “When I go home over break, I’ll sit down with my mom and we’ll talk about it. But I haven’t really made a decision. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, but coach Hazell leaving definitely played a big part in it. If he would have stayed, my decision would have been a whole lot easier. Now we’ll see what happens.”
Archer and the rest of the Flashes’ returning upperclassmen will play for their third head coach at Kent State after Haynes takes over.
“I was sitting in my bed thinking about that last night,” said Archer. “It’s pretty difficult. You’ve gotta get used to a whole (different) coaching staff, another (head) coach. It’s the third coach since I’ve been here, so I’ve gotta build that relationship with him now. It’s just hard. But it’s a business.”
Ironically, Haynes also played for three coaches while he was at Kent State.
“I got emotional (during a team meeting before the news conference), cause I was in their shoes. I went through three coaches,” said Haynes. “I know what they’re going through. They’re sitting there wondering about who I am.”
Haynes is familiar with many members of Kent State’s current staff. Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock’s brother Jim was on the Ohio State staff along with Haynes and Hazell.
“I will not hire anyone until I talk with this previous staff and give them a chance to interview with me,” said Haynes. “I know a lot of them. The job that they have done here, the respect that I have for them, I think I owe it to them first before I do anything else.”
KEEPING HIS DISTANCE
Hazell said on Tuesday that he didn’t mind if Haynes attended practices leading up to the bowl game. However, Haynes said he plans to stay away.
“I’m not gonna screw it up,” said Haynes. “Out of respect to this staff and coach Hazell, they’ve done a great job this year and they need to finish it out. I watched Kent State every week. I know the names of these guys, just cause I’m a Kent Stater.”
Haynes did say he will attend the bowl game.
“I’ll watch from the stands,” said Haynes. “Not from the sideline.”