FORT WAYNE – So heres your man, Purdue, and, no, hes not the Name Guy. Hes the guy from a program whose tradition you could fit in a shot glass. Hes the guy whos paid his coaching dues and the surcharge, too, knocking around some places youve never heard of and some you have in the pursuit of the opportunity thats before him now.
Welcome to 1996, ladies and gentlemen. And say hello to Joe Tiller.
In a little while well make the jump to 2012 and youll get to meet Darrell Hazell, but for now, lets walk it back a bit. Lets remember what it was like when Purdue brought in another coach from a program people associated with football the way they associate armadillos with oregano.
Tiller was 55 when he came to West Lafayette from Wyoming of all places, where he was 39-30-1 in five seasons. He wasnt a Name Guy, like Fred Akers had been. And he seemed like the last person on earth destined to get the fan base revved up.
Of course, that was before he turned a defensive back (Billy Dicken) into a quarterback and went 9-3 his first year. Then, three years later, got Purdue to its first Rose Bowl in 34 years.
By that time, people in jacked-up Ross-Ade Stadium were waving Joe for President signs and chanting his name.
So whats that got to do with Darrell Hazell?
Well, hes being asked again to re-energize a fan base that has left Ross-Ade a house of echoes, and hes not a Name Guy, either, at least for football non-junkies. In 26 years, hes coached at places like Army and Oberlin and Ohio State, where he was Jim Tressels right-hand man for seven years. Then he got the call from Kent State, a chronic loser that had put up exactly one winning season since 1987.
People looked at me like I was crazy, Hazell remembered Wednesday, as they introduced him as Purdues 35th football coach. I bit my lip and went to work.
He went 5-7 in his first season, but Kent won four of its last five games. Then, this fall, the Golden Flashes finished 11-2 and landed in a bowl game for the first time in 40 years.
And now here Hazell was Wednesday evening, telling everyone that Purdue is going to win and its going to win a hurry.
Were going to go after people, he said.
And: Were going to do it the right way.
And: Theres a lot of things this program is going to do in the future. Its going to be really special. Very special.
A lot of guys say that on Day 1 of the job, but somehow when Hazell says it you believe it. Theres an air about him – maybe its the way he molds the brim of his cap into a perfect curl, a virtually lost art these days – that fairly exudes competence. Everyone whos ever met him senses it.
Theres a calmness about him. You can feel the intensity, but theres a calmness in his eyes. If youre late in the game and the kids look over at the sideline, thats probably the face you want to see, Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said Wednesday.
(Hazell) truly gets it, acting President Tim Sands said.
And if he wins, Purdues fan base will get him. It says here it will regardless – just listen to the guy for two minutes and youll be convinced – but it really is that simple. Was with Tiller, will be with Hazell.
Theres a certain level of expectation that everybody in the organization must meet, he said Wednesday. No one in the organization underachieves. If you can do that, you can be pretty successful.
And make a Name for yourself.