Less than a week following a declaration to return to Kent State, the Golden Flashes officially found out what they've feared unofficially as the best football season in school history unfolded. Their second year head coach, Darrell Hazell, moving on to bigger things, as made public today when Purdue introduced Hazell as the new face of the Boilermaker program.
"Darrell helped put our football program on the map again and we are very grateful for his efforts," Kent State's Director of Athletics, Joel Nielsen, said. "We wish him nothing but the best; but we have no intention of disappearing from the map."
That map - namely the AP and BCS Polls - sees the program Hazell is leaving at 25th in both rankings, a testimonial to the incredible turnaround that Hazell helped engineer for one of the MAC's traditional cellar dwellers. Kent State (11-2) relied on Hazell's steady leadership on the way to a school-best in wins and their first MAC east championship since the conference divided into the current alignment in 1997. The Golden Flashes fell just short of their first outright MAC title since 1972 - led by legendary head coach Don James - when they lost to Northern Illinois 44-37 in double overtime last Friday night.
Since the final whistle blew in Detroit, the drumbeats of Hazell's potential departure had gotten louder and louder, and it finally came to fruition this afternoon when he accepted the position in West Lafayette. For Nielsen and Kent State, the task of replacing the talented Hazell will start immediately.
"There is great coaching talent out there - like Darrell - seeking an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities," Nielsen said. "Our search will be both thorough and quick - and mirror the search we did that resulted in Darrell joining Kent State two years ago."
For a number of the player's on the Kent State roster, this transition will not be an unfamiliar one, since it's been only two years since the arrival of Hazell turned the program upside down. After a 5-7 season in 2011, the group formed a tight bond under Hazell, and that's the focus moving forward, maintaining the family atmosphere he helped instill.
"This time, one huge difference that we have in our program's favor is that our players really believe in themselves and their teammates," Nielsen said. "That's evident in the success we've witnessed over the past two years. We plan to build on that belief by hiring a coach who believes strongly in his ability to make a difference in the lives of our players both on and off the field."
Hazell will remain with the Golden Flashes through their bowl game, and will lead Kent State during their January 6th, 2013 matchup with Arkansas State. The Red Wolves will also be bidding adieu to their head coach following that matchup, as it was announced Tuesday that Gus Malzahn will be taking the reins at Auburn following the bowl game.
KentStateReport.com will have more on the Golden Flashes' coaching search as it happens.