FORT WAYNE – The introductions are long behind him now, except tonight, at this table overlooking the lush greenery of Fort Wayne Country Club. The line before Darrell Hazell stretches across the room. The people in it clutch footballs, digital cameras, an abiding curiosity. So, this is the new football coach …
Hazell, a compact man wearing a suit and a crisply knotted tie Tuesday night, shakes hands, poses for photos, signs, with a flourish, ready-made posters that read “Reshape, Rebuild and Restore.”
The three R’s, boys and girls, of the latest new era of Purdue football.
The man who’ll do the Reshaping, Rebuilding and Restoring – the man in the suit and tie, sitting behind the table – landed at Purdue after learning from Jim Tressel at Ohio State, then did something no one does, which was turn chronic schlepper Kent State into a winner. Now he’s at Purdue, where the challenge might be even greater.
The Boilermakers went 6-7 last year, 3-5 conference, and even that less-than-ornate cupboard is bare. The program Hazell inherits is missing all but one of the quarterbacks who saw the field in 2012, plus its top three rushers and six of its top eight receivers. Eleven of its 16 rushing touchdowns graduated. Nineteen of its 30 receiving touchdowns are gone. And the leave-taking of Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush means 27 of 30 passing touchdowns and 2,884 passing yards have gone off with the angels.
No problem so far for a man who, lest we forget, has started at square one before.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said at the Purdue Tailgate Tour function. “I thought the team came together (in the spring), I thought they worked extremely hard and they’re starting to understand what it takes to align themselves to be successful.”
Part of this is attitude – the Reshape factor in the equation – and part of it is simple book learning. The offensive and defensive systems Hazell is introducing are considerably different from the ones everyone got used to under Danny Hope, and so a good chunk of the spring and summer will by necessity involve making those new systems second nature.
“We are making some major changes in obviously our system, but the kids have done a good job of really getting in and studying the system, understanding all the intricacies of the system that we’re putting in now,” said Hazell, who figures they’ll probably install “80 percent” of everything for the season opener again Cincinnati. “It’s different. The language is different. The formations are similar, but we’re doing a lot of shifting and motioning and that sort of thing so that makes it somewhat complex.”
More clear-cut is what lies ahead for Hazell in his first season: A front-loaded schedule that will show no mercy for learning curves.
In the first seven weeks, Purdue will face Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. All six of those schools went to bowl games last season, and their combined record was 59-20.
Little wonder Hazell’s No. 1 goal going into the fall has as much to do with the mental as the physical.
“As a team I think the thing we have to do is be a tough football team,” he said. “That’s been the emphasis, to try to change the culture in our toughness and try to make them understand how hard it is to win football games in the Big Ten in the month of November.”
Or any other month.