KENT: One big reason Kent State Athletic Director Joel Nielsen hired Paul Haynes to be the 21st Kent State football coach is simple: it’s hard to tell where former coach Darrell Hazell ends and the new one in Haynes begins.
With both men having served as longtime Ohio State assistant coaches under Jim Tressel, their coaching upbringing has left a deep impression on the right way to run a winning program.
That explains why during Haynes’ introductory news conference Tuesday, his passionate thoughts about the importance of “a coach’s relationship with his players” and “how you win with people” were echoes of the same words Hazell spoke when he was introduced two years ago.
The similarity between the two should help the Golden Flashes to continue the program’s move forward with an 11-2 season under Hazell.
“When you change coaches when you’re 1-10, you want change,” Haynes, 43, said. “But you change coaches when you’re winning, you don’t want a lot of change.”
But there’s another thing about Haynes that endeared him to Nielsen and will likely do the same to the entire school community: Haynes is the team’s first football head coach who played and graduated from Kent State.
Haynes readily called the new position his “dream job” and yet was still a bit surprised by the emotion that washed over him Tuesday afternoon, beginning with his first team meeting.
“I actually got emotional when I talked to [the players] just because I have a lot of pride in this place and I love this place,” Haynes said. “I got emotional because I was in their shoes, I wore these colors. I sat in these meetings and I went through three coaches while I was here, so I know what they’re going through.”
Haynes, who spent two seasons as an assistant coach at KSU in 1999-2000 under former coach Dean Pees, replayed the tale of how he walked on to the team as a freshman in 1987 before going on to play four seasons and finish his college career as the Flashes seventh leading tackler.
“I blew my knee out as a senior [at St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus] and only played four games,” Haynes said. “There were other opportunities I was looking for, but they didn’t happen. So I came to Kent State as a preferred walk on and coach [Glen Mason] told me if I did a good job, I could earn a scholarship. Then a couple of guys got hurt and I ended up starting the first game of my freshman year. The last day of camp coach brought me into his office and offered me a scholarship.”
Now 25 years later, Haynes returns to his alma mater for a third turn, this time having agreed to a five-year contract with a $375,000 base salary and additional incentives still to be worked out. Nielsen said the Flashes assistant coaching pool would remain in the current $850,000 range.
“Paul’s been a defensive coordinator in the SEC and the Big Ten along with working in the Big East and the MAC,” Nielsen said. “His experience as a coach and a recruiter, plus his knowledge of Ohio and along with his relationships with Ohio high school coaches, put Paul Haynes at the top of my list.”
In 2010 Haynes was with Hazell at Ohio State when Hazell first interviewed at Kent State.
“Of course you sit there at the time and say, ‘alright, let me go after it,’ ” Haynes said. “But truly do I think I was ready? I don’t know [if I was] at that time. I’m a Christian guy and I truly believe that God will put me where he wants me. Timing is everything and this is a perfect time for me now.”
Haynes knows replacing Hazell, who is the new coach at Purdue, won’t be easy even coming off a season with the first bowl appearance in 40 years.
“I know it’s going to be a hard job, but everybody thinks it’s going to go back [to struggling like in previous years],” Haynes said. “They’re sitting there saying, ‘Ah, this is a fluke. This ain’t going to continue to happen.’ But it is going to happen and it is going to continue. The reason I think it is because Darrell laid a great foundation and we will continue to build on that. These kids believe and we will continue to recruit kids who believe in Kent State.”
After meeting with Haynes, some of the players took to Twitter to voice positive opinions.
“Very impressed with coach Haynes. Looking forward to playing for him,” tweeted junior offensive lineman Patrick McShane.
“That went very well. I was super impressed!! Excited for the future,” tweeted freshman place kicker Brad Miller.
Despite Hazell and Haynes previous ties, the pair is going to great lengths to make sure they don’t step on the other’s toes in the coming weeks. Hazell politely declined to attend the news conference. Haynes later said he planned to stay away from team and practice until after its participation in the Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com bowl.
“To me, it’s a respect thing,” Haynes said. “[Hazell and his staff] started this and I don’t want the paper writing about me. I want them writing about him and the team because I have nothing to do with them getting to this bowl game. I want them to finish the right way and I don’t want to be in the way.”
Haynes, who spent last season as the defensive coordinator/secondary coach at Arkansas, concede that it could take a few days before he comes back to earth.
“It might take me a little while to grasp that I’m the coach at Kent State, because this has been a dream of mine,” he said. “When I got into the profession, being the head coach of Kent State was one of my goals. And now my goal has been accomplished — and I still can’t believe it.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.