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New Purdue coach makes big first impression

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For more on Purdue athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Players looking forward to next season

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 10:12 pm

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Of course Twitter and texting battled to a first-place tie. In this instant-information age, when today's news is old before you read it, the word about Purdue's new football coach reached players before they'd stepped off the practice field from Tuesday's Heart of Dallas Bowl preparations.

And then the word became flesh, in a matter of speaking. Darrell Hazell the rumored coach became Darrell Hazell the man in the Boilermaker locker room. He met the players for the first time Wednesday afternoon, spoke briefly, then shook everyone's hands in a quick beginning to a long-term relationship.

“He invited us to come to his office and get to know him personally,” quarterback Rob Henry said. “We're looking forward to that.”

Hazell's stated mission -- get Purdue to the Rose Bowl and win championships -- left the Boilers pumped about the possibilities.

“Everything about him excites us,” Henry said. “He was at Ohio State (as a wide receivers coach), and anytime you think about Ohio State football, you think about success, tradition and winning.

“Look at what he did at Kent State. From what I know, he put them on the map. There's no reason why he won't do the same at Purdue.”

Hazell needed two years to turn Kent State from perennial loser to an 11-2 surprise that earned a trip to the Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Henry had watched Kent State beat Ohio a few weeks ago, before Purdue coach Danny Hope was fired and the Boilers coaching search had settled on Hazell.

“I saw that they were nationally ranked and how much passion they played with,” he said. “That's always a direct reflection of the head coach.

“It's very exciting. We look forward to spending time with him and for next fall.”

The Boilers will return 16 starters from their 6-6 team. At the moment, their focus is on the Heart of Dallas Bowl and Oklahoma State (7-5). Hazell won't have any part in that. He's set to direct Kent State in its bowl game before switching to Purdue full time Jan. 7.

Hazell said he'll use the Boilers' bowl game as part of his evaluation process. Henry said he won't look at the game as an audition for next season.

“We'll go about our business as usual,” Henry said. “We'll continue to prepare hard. We want to go to Dallas and perform well.

“We want to play football. We want to play well and to the best of their abilities. That's what it boils down to. Whether or not we're impressing somebody, I don't think we'll look at it like that.”

In the meantime, Hazell left no doubt about his championship aspirations.

“He's a guy all the players will work hard for and love to play for,” Henry said. “We got a quality guy. You see how much success he had at Kent State and that gives you a lot of confidence he can do it here.

“We're excited to get to work and see what happens next year.”