CINCINNATI – Darrell Hazell faced so much uncertainty, had so few answers, as he bopped up and down in the visitor’s tunnel as Cincinnati took the field Saturday.
The first-year coach was full of butterflies and ready for the first game of his career at Purdue. It wasn’t like his opener two years ago with Kent State, when the Golden Flashes faced powerhouse Alabama and were dragged through the dirt.
This one looked similar on the scoreboard: a 42-7 loss to the Bearcats doesn’t look much better than KSU’s 48-7 beating by the Crimson Tide on Sept. 3, 2011.
But it was a different kind of beginning.
And Hazell, up against seven more opponents either receiving votes or in the Associated Press top-25 poll, is more confident in his process now than he was then.
We can get it turned around pretty quickly if we can fix some of those problems, he said after his team gave up 425 yards of offense and managed just 226. I think we have enough good players in our locker room.
Hazell stuck to what he knows.
He kept fifth-year senior Rob Henry in the game despite two interceptions and a 51.4 completion percentage on 35 throws. He wore his usual Hazelled hat – with the brim bent in an elongated downward U and the top pushed toward the front – and kept on the windbreaker he wears to every practice despite sweltering heat that hit the low 90s.
Hazell did what Hazell does, and he didn’t compromise that before, during or after the game. Purdue will be what he wants it to be, he said.
If this is a rebuilding year, he doesn’t see it as one. He couldn’t tell if there was ever one in Kent, Ohio, either.
I don’t know how long it took, he said. I can’t even make a comparison between that and where we are right now. I just think there was a lack of execution of our performance today, and I think that’s more where we are.
Those seem like bold words, but they come from a man that turned the Golden Flashes from a 5-7 team in Year 1 to 11-3 in Year 2.
And whether it’s blind confidence, self-assurance or a bit of prophecy, Hazell believes the Boilermakers are much better than they showed at Nippert Stadium.
I think it’s very important that we stay the course, he said. We’re not gonna flinch. We’re gonna go back, we’re gonna go back to work, we’re gonna stay tight and we’re not gonna listen to what people say about us.
We’re gonna go back to work, and we’re gonna get it fixed. That’s for sure.