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B1G 2014 // Purdue's Smartest Guy in the Room

Is Darrell Hazell doomed by his 1-11 first season? Let's compare him to other coaches in similar situations and see if we can make an educated guess.


Even though this is the first Smartest Guys in the Room post of the year, I'm going to take a break from the standard format. Usually this is a place to discuss the head coach, coordinators, and position coaches. Since there really hasn't been much coaching turnover from last year at Purdue, I'm going use this space to compare Head Coach Darrell Hazell to other former MAC coaches and other coaches that had awful first seasons. Maybe by doing this we can see how much of a chance Hazell has at rebounding from a historically awful mess of a first season.

Who is this guy anyway?

Hazell was a long time assistant coach at Ohio State under Jim Tresselball. He was the head man at Kent State for two years and turned that losing program into MAC runner-ups in his second season. This is his second season as head coach at Purdue. The first season was almost unfathomably bad.

Comparing Hazell to other former MAC coaches

I think it might be wise to compare Coach Hazell to other former MAC coaches, so that we can use those comparisons to to guess whether or not Hazell can build Purdue into a winning program. I'll use numbers instead of names to begin with so you can guess who they are. It will be like playing a really boring game.

Coach #1:

  • Coached a MAC team for three years
  • The season before he took over, they were 2-10
  • Records at MAC school: 6-7, 7-6, 11-3
  • His MAC team stayed at a high level after he left
  • First season as a B1G coach: 3-7
  • Most recent season as a B1G coach: 8-5
  • A lot of head coaching experience prior to the MAC

Coach #2:

  • Coached a MAC team for three years
  • The season before he took over, they were 3-9
  • Records at MAC school: 5-7, 8-5, 8-4
  • His MAC team stayed at about the same level after he left
  • First season as a B1G coach: 2-10
  • Most recent season as a B1G coach: 4-8
  • No head coaching experience prior to the MAC

Coach #3:

  • Coached a MAC team for two years
  • The season before he took over, they were 5-7
  • Records at MAC school: 5-7, 11-3
  • His MAC team got worse after he left
  • First season as a B1G coach: 1-11
  • Most recent season as a B1G coach: 1-11
  • No head coaching experience prior to the MAC

It is not hard to figure out who each of these coaches are. Coach #1 is Jerry Kill, who went from Northern Illinois to Minnesota. Coach #2 is Illinois' Tim Beckman, who coached at Toledo. Coach #3 is Darrell Hazell, who was at Kent State before getting the Purdue job.

Looking at the bullet points, it seems like Hazell has a lot more in common with Beckman than Kill. Beckman and Hazell only have a few years of head coaching experience. Kill spent a career building winning programs at lower levels before getting his MAC gig. Kill's 3-9 first B1G season was bad, but his two conference wins that season are two more than Beckman and Hazell had combined.

I don't have my finger on the pulse of Illinois football, but I don't think that most Illini fans are confident that Beckman can turn that program around. Most people expect another bad year or two for Beckman before Illinois hires another head coach. Hazell had an even worse first season than Beckman, and it's hard not to see the same fate for him if Purdue doesn't field a somewhat competitive team this season. I am defining somewhat competitive as three wins and a few non-blowout losses.

How have other coaches fared who have had such terrible first seasons?

There is really no point to limiting our comparisons to just MAC coaches. Let's look at some other coaches who have went through trainwreck first seasons to see how many of them turned their programs around.

Kevin Wilson

Like 2013 Purdue, Indiana went 1-11 in Wilson's first year. Since then they have improved, winning four and then five games. IU runs a hurry-up offense that succeeds in piling up yards and sometimes points. Wilson still hasn't found a way to improve the consistently awful defense though. If he can get an even mediocre defense, Indiana should be able to go bowling every other year or so; if he can't, four or five win seasons will start piling up.

Charlie Weis

Charlie "Schematic Advantage" Weis was hired at Kansas after getting fired at Notre Dame and a couple of unremarkable OC stints. He took over a terrible team and didn't make them any better. Kansas went 1-11 his first season and 3-9 in his second. 3-9 doesn't sound that great, but they did end a 27 (!!!!!) game conference losing streak by beating West Virginia. Even with that streak broken, it would be surprising if Weis gets Kansas out of the cellar.

Tim Brewster

Brewster went 1-11 in his first year at Minnesota and then managed two half-decent seasons (6-7, 7-6) before another awful season in which he was fired. I don't think any Minnesota fans regret the decision to fire him.

Greg Robinson

Before his unsuccessful stint as Michigan DC, Gerg had a very unsuccessful stint as the head coach of Syracuse. The Orange went 1-11 in his first season and followed that up with 4-8, 2-10 and 3-9 years.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of coaches who have had terrible first seasons. I just went looking for some examples and I came up with these. If there are a some coaches who have built winners out of the rubble of an awful first season, there aren't many. Looking at this list, Wilson has the best chance at making his team into something decent, but IU is certainly no lock to start posting winning seasons. All of these examples point to a tough road ahead for Hazell and Purdue.

Hazell and Sonny Dykes

Sonny Dykes turned a successful stint as the Lousiana Tech coach into the Cal job. His first season was a disaster. Dykes and Hazell are in very similar situations. They both moved up from small schools to big ones last season, and they have both looked terrible so far.

Like Hazell, Dykes is bringing back most of his assistants from last year. Both coaches decided to stay the course; whether this was a good idea remains to be seen.

One major difference between Hazell and Dykes is their coaching style. Dykes is a proponent of the Air Raid system and is seen as a great offensive mind. Hazell doesn't really have an identity; he is seen more as a solid leader type rather than someone who is tied to a certain playing style.

It will be interesting to see whether either Hazell or Dykes will be able to turn things around. In a few years it might be good to look back and see how their approaches after a terrible first year differed and if one was more successful than the other.

What was the point of all of this?

I was very pessimistic before writing this about Purdue's chances to be competitive within the next few years. I thought it might be a good idea to compare Darrell Hazell with some other coaches in his situation and see how things worked out for them. Needless to say, I am still very pessimistic.

What better way to end this rambling mess of an article than with some bullet points?

  • Hazell seems a lot more like Tim Beckman than Jerry Kill. That is not a good thing.
  • Most coaches who have awful first seasons do not turn things around.
  • Sonny Dykes is in a similar situation at Cal.

What do you guys think? Is the Hazell Era doomed at Purdue? Is it too early to be certain? Do any of these comparisons matter at all?



MONDAY | Cocktail Party Preview

TUESDAY | Smartest Guys in the Room

WEDNESDAY | Purdue Potluck Part 1

THURSDAY | Purdue Potluck Part 2

FRIDAY | Keeping the Enemy Close