KENT: Paul Haynes doesn’t mind being mentioned in the same breath with Darrell Hazell, whom he coached with for six of his seven years at Ohio State.
Paul Haynes doesn’t mind being a branch of the Jim Tressel tree.
“Those are two pretty successful people; I kind of like to be in that group,” Haynes said.
Haynes doesn’t bend the brim of his cap like Hazell or keep a lid on his emotions like Tressel. That was evident during his time at the microphone Tuesday as Haynes, 43, was introduced as Kent State’s football coach. The former KSU walk-on got choked up a couple of times when he recalled his playing days.
“I’m trying not to get emotional because I don’t want my wife to see me cry yet,” Haynes said of Danita, seated to his right.
But Haynes’ connections to Hazell and Tressel helped him realize a long-held dream of coaching at his alma mater. As director of athletics, Joel Nielsen sought a successor for Hazell, bound for Purdue after coaching 11-2 KSU in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 and Nielsen wanted a seamless transition. He felt picking another coach with the same roots and the same beliefs as Hazell was the best way to get it.
“I felt at this point it wasn’t the right thing to totally blow it up and start all over,” Nielsen said. “If we could do things that were consistent for these young men because we’ve got a lot of talent coming back and a lot of talent coming up. ... That was a big factor, whether it was Paul Haynes or someone else off that Tressel tree.
“There were multiple Tressel tree people that had interest and that we may have spoken with along the line.”
As painful as it is for the Golden Flashes and Kent State to lose Hazell, going back to that tree was a wise move by Nielsen. It wasn’t just X’s and O’s that helped KSU set a school record for victories and go to its first bowl in 40 years. It was the values Hazell instilled and the rift among players he bridged.
Nielsen believes Haynes, the defensive coordinator at Arkansas last season, can do the same.
“I’m all about building men; I’m all about building relationships,” Haynes said. “If I build a great man, I’m going to put a great product on the field and I’m not going to do it vice versa. We’re going to have goals academically, we’re going to be out in the community, we’re going to give back.
“I learned so much in those seven years with [Tressel] on how to do it and how to do it right. Everyone looks at the wins as just winning. There was a reason why we won. Not only did we win, we produced a lot of academic All-Americans. So I know it works and I believe in it. I said, ‘When I become a head coach, I’m going to model my program after this.’ ”
Haynes spent 2005-2011 at Ohio State, coaching defensive backs until he was elevated to co-defensive coordinator in 2011 after Tressel’s firing. He said he still has his seven Winner’s Manuals, 400-page binders of inspirational stories, sayings and goals that Tressel gave to his players and coaches each season, presumably the last one finished before Tressel’s Memorial Day 2011 departure. Haynes said he will continue the concept in some fashion at Kent State, just as Hazell did with a pyramid of 15 fundamentals he labeled “Kent State Football is About.’’
“We’re going to have the wheel of life,” Haynes said. “And these kids are going to understand that their purpose in life is more important than their goals in life.”
He and Hazell’s philosophies are so much alike that Haynes said when he toured Kent State’s facilities with Nielsen on Monday night, he saw quotes he loves already posted.
“I was like, ‘Man, that’s my sign. That’s the sign I’m going to put up. It’s already up,’ ” Haynes said.
But Haynes didn’t just benefit from his connection to Tressel, he consulted his mentor at every step along the way. Since he first e-mailed Nielsen about the job when the national buzz about Hazell began after an Oct. 25 victory at nationally ranked Rutgers, Haynes jokingly said he has called Tressel “about 20 times a day.”
“I don’t know how Jim Tressel gets work done, between all the coaches and all the players who call him daily,” Haynes said. “Every time some type of job has happened, some type of move, some type of decision I have to make, he’s the first person I call.
“Tress has a unique way of giving his opinion, but making it seem like it’s your opinion. He would give you advice and tell you kind of what he thinks, but at the end of it, you think that’s what you think. The big thing he said was to be myself. I know what I’m doing. I know how to do it. Attack it and have fun.”
Nielsen was also calling Tressel, speaking to him twice about Haynes.
Asked what Tressel told him, Nielsen said, “He’s a very classy and genuine person. Great family, and that’s important in today’s world, and recruiting Ohio. He said that’s Paul’s strength. He knows Ohio, high school coaches know him, they like him.”
Haynes wasn’t as polished as Hazell, saying, “[O]K?” at times and patting his chest, especially when his news conference began.
“Maybe when I leave Kent State in 20 or 30 years I’ll be good at this,” he said, conceding his nervousness.
If he continues Hazell’s success, Haynes’ tenure won’t be nearly that long. But if Haynes follows the principles he learned under Tressel, he should be good at what matters most. And young Golden Flashes will be all the richer for it.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.