AL HAMNIK: Purdue football hire Hazell not ducking the issues

2013-06-03T20:15:00Z 2013-09-16T18:57:22Z AL HAMNIK: Purdue football hire Hazell not ducking the issuesAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
June 03, 2013 8:15 pm  • 

I like new Purdue football skipper Darrell Hazell. He avoids the ho-hum coach speak that puts you to sleep.

Throw him a fastball high and tight, and he doesn't duck or charge the mound.

Hazell stands his ground and answers straight from the heart. When your football program is 42-47 overall the last seven seasons — 22-33 against the Big Ten — you can't expect marshmallows unless there's a bonfire.

At the recent Purdue Coaches Caravan in Merrillville, I asked the former Kent State coach how he planned to turn Boilermakers football around. And please, no sermons on work ethic and commitment.

"Everything's different right now," Hazell said. "The schemes are different. The mindset's different. The staffs are different.

"We're just trying to change the culture and do it as quick as you can."

Joe Tiller gave college fans his "Basketball on Grass" by relying heavily on rocket launchers at quarterback and receivers who could catch the ball in a flock of geese. The running game, sadly, was overlooked.

Danny Hope, whose job Hazell took, fell into the same trap by emphasizing pass over run. It cost him his job.

"It's critical for us to be able to run the football in this conference," Hazell said. "Everything comes off the run. You talk about the month of November where winning college championships is premiere. You've got to be able to run the football because it's colder, windier and harder to handle the ball.

"You establish the run and then get some play action passes off of it."

Purdue returns five starters on offense, nine on defense and five on special teams from an average squad that finished 6-7. Hazell's 23 recruits have impressive stats, but will that carry over to the Division I level?

"Their own self image and how they see themselves is critically important in us moving forward," Hazell said.

Tiller had that Will Rogers persona with a tinge of sarcasm, Hope was a rah-rah type, so what about Hazell?

"I can't compare myself with others," said Hazell, who comes across as a super nice guy. "The biggest thing for me is to make sure I'm completely prepared so that my staff is prepared so that the players are prepared.

"I spend a lot of time by myself in making sure we go over all the checklists we have so when game day comes, there's a calmness and an anticipation of things that are going to happen — because you're prepared."

Turnovers were costly last season and Hazell will demand an on-field performance cleaner than a nursery this time around.

"That was one of our spring goals — to take care of the football — and that's everybody, not just the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, but our linemen and defensive backs as well," he said.

Accountability. How nice to hear. It's been missing in West Lafayette.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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