This is the first of a three-part Q&A series with Purdue football coach Darrell Hazell.
WEST LAFAYETTE -- Darrell Hazel is a man on the go. There is a Purdue football tradition to restore, fan interest to revive, new offensive and defensive systems to install, new players to coach and develop, a new team room renovation to oversee and, oh, yes, a new house to build.
Yes, it's a lot on a guy's plate, even if that guy is now a millionaire courtesy of a six-year contract at $2 million a year.
The money is great, of course, but in the end, Hazell isn't coaching for the money as much as the opportunity to turn boys into men, win, make a difference, win, and, well, win.
“The main thing we're trying to create right now is a family,” he said. “We want to continue to foster morale. As you walk around this building we've made so many adjustments in the last six months, people say, wow. That's what you want. You always want to get better. It doesn't have to be significant all the time, but you want to see daily improvement. We've tried to do that. It makes a difference.”
Hazell, who was hired by Purdue last December, is the head coach of his second program after a successful assistant coaching run highlighted by seven years at Ohio State that included a national championship.
In two years he turned Kent State, a perennial Mid-American Conference doormat, into a conference power, winning MAC coach-of-the-year honors in the process. He hopes to do the same thing at Purdue, and the pressure is on. Athletic director Morgan Burke said he wants the program to return to the Rose Bowl, something that last happened in 2001.
The Boilers return 13 starters from a 6-7 team. They have to find a starting quarterback, reliable receivers, consistent offensive line play and a group of linebackers that can terrorize offenses.
Is the talent there to make it happen? It appears so. Hazell's task is to toughen a group of guys recruited for their speed more than their physical play.
Adding to the challenge is a brutal schedule that would make life tough for defending national champ Alabama, let alone a program that has suffered losing records in four of the last five seasons.
The Boilers open at Cincinnati (with new coach Tommy Tuberville) on Aug. 31. They host Notre Dame (which lost to Alabama in last season's national title game) and Northern Illinois (the Huskies lost to Florida State in the Orange Bowl last season). Their Big Ten schedule includes games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Earlier this week Hazell met with the News-Sentinel in his office to discuss a wide range of topics. This is the first of a multi-part series.
YOU'VE ALREADY TURNED AROUND ONE PROGRAM AT KENT STATE. IS THIS PROCESS ANY MORE HECTIC?
I wouldn't use the word 'hectic.' There are a lot of things I've been doing in the community, which is awesome. The people have been phenomenal. My calendar is pretty full. It's fun to get out and meet people. It's fun to watch the Purdue passion come back and see people get excited about the program.
We're in the process of building a house. We're designing all the rooms and all those things. You do it every day. You talk to the builder for five minutes. You talk to this recruit for five minutes. You talk to the guy downtown for five minutes. You're balancing the schedule. You talk to your family that is back in Ohio and that will be here in four weeks. You make time to do it all.
WHAT DRIVES YOU AS A COACH?
There is nothing more rewarding to me than to watch a person develop in a four-year period. There's nothing like it. To watch a guy come in, not knowing a whole lot about this or that, and in a three-year period watch the kid grow up, be responsible, be accountable, be respectful. Watch his skill set on the field get so much better. There is nothing like that.
What happens a lot of time with those great players is people see the finished product, but they miss the first three years of that development. To me, that's the beauty of it.
YOU HAVE A GRUELING NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE WITH CINCINNATI, NOTRE DAME AND NORTHERN ILLINOIS. PLUS YOU HAVE EIGHT BIG TEN GAMES THAT INCLUDES A HOME GAME WITH OHIO STATE, A NATIONAL TITLE CONTENDER. SO MUCH FOR EASING INTO THE JOB.
The schedule is very fun. There are a lot of great opponents on there. The key is take them one at a time. That sounds so cliché, but that is critical for preparation for each game. The biggest game in my mind is Cincinnati. They're a good program. They have a new coach (Tuberville), but they're a good program. They have shown it through the test of time. It's going to be a lot of fun. Every week we're playing the big boys, and we're one of the big boys. We want to play with the big boys.
FOOTBALL COACHES HAVE PRESSURE TO WIN, WIN BIG, WIN RIGHT AWAY. HOW MUCH MORE PRESSURE IS THERE WHEN YOU HAVE A SCHEDULE LIKE THIS IN YOUR DEBUT SEASON?
I don't feel any exterior pressure. All the pressure I feel all the time is making sure I do the best job to put people in the best position to be successful. People on the outside are going to say what they're going to say -- positive, negative. If you allow that to draw away from the attention of the things you need to do on a daily basis, you don't have a chance. I try to put that aside and develop the best program for players, coaches, equipment people, trainers. Make sure we're all heading in the same direction to make sure it happens.
YOU HAVE REFERRED TO ROSS-ADE STADIUM AS “THE FURNACE.” WHERE DID THAT COME FROM AND WILL YOU CONTINUE TO USE THAT NAME IN THE FUTURE?
That came about when I was at a fundraiser in Naples, Fla. I was speaking with an alum. I brought up the point that think of all the stadium identifications there are around the country that people talk about. There's The Shoe (Ohio State), the Big House (Michigan), the Swamp (Florida). All those places. We need an identification. He threw out, Something Furnace and I abbreviated it to The Furnace. We're running with it. I like it. The message is, you want it to get hot in Ross-Ade Stadium for opposing teams in The Furnace.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR YOUR PLAYERS THIS MONTH?
Some guys have left. Some will be back to take some summer school classes. We have them coming and going for this month, and then we'll get going pretty hot and heavy in the month of June.
HOW BUSY IS THE MONTH OF JUNE FOR YOU WITH CAMPS?
We have about six camps in the month of June, everything from first grade to eight grade. We have a couple of elite camps with quarterbacks. We have some developmental camps with ninth and 10th graders, and then 11th graders. We'll have another elite camp with guys who are going to be seniors. We have a 7 on 7 tournament. I'm not sure they've done that here in a while, as well as a big man's camp.
It seems like (7 on 7 tournaments) are getting big everywhere. There's a need to do it. The more people you can get on campus to see your facilities and meet your staff, the more it helps you.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE CAMPS IN THE RECRUITING PROCESS?
First, it's a way to get guys on campus. It's also a way for elite guys, marquee guys, to see the staffs of various schools so they can narrow down their focus. It works for both sides. We'll try to do as many as we can so we can get to know the personalities of guys. You can get turned off or turned on by watching guys in camp.