Before the first practice of the spring, Purdue freshman quarterback Danny Etling ran along the sidelines and offered his father a handshake. Joe Etling, a native of Terre Haute, made the two-hour drive to watch his son’s first practice from the sidelines.
Etling wasn’t alone on the Mollenkopf Center sidelines. He was joined by a group of a hundred or so spectators—family members, friends, and even just fans of the Purdue program.
“It’s going to take all of us to get this program where we want it to be,” said new Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell, who opened his practices to the public, a rarity in major-conference college football.
Darrell Hazell’s most important job is to win football games. Right now, his record shows zero wins and zero losses, and that’s all his job requires him to worry about. But Hazell has taken on a side project: unite the fan base.
Inside Ross-Ade Stadium last season, Purdue’s greater problem was illustrated by the thousands of empty seats. It was time for a change in leadership. Given the dwindling attendance figures, it became evident Purdue needed an ambassador for its football program.
In the weeks after taking over as head coach, Hazell began recruiting. He scoured the country looking for the next Boilermakers, but he also recruited on campus and around the community. He visited with fraternities and university organizations, offering a personal invitation to be a part of the program.
Hazell surrounded himself with a talented coaching staff, each bringing in a diverse background. But more importantly, it’s a group which he can trust to build the team into a family.
With Hazell and his staff, there are no shenanigans in recruiting. He has honored each scholarship offer and has stood by every recruit. That’s how a common trust is built.
Months after his senior season had ended, it appeared quarterback Ti Domhoff had lost all hopes of playing at any level of Division I football. A torn labrum took Domhoff’s senior season from him, and it appeared his chances of playing in the Big Ten, too. However, Hazell wanted to stand by the kid he recruited at Kent State, offering a preferred walk-on position.
“Whether I play a down or not at Purdue, I knew I was going to have special four or five years there because I’m going to be playing for Coach Hazell,” Domhoff told Boiler Sports Report in March, not long after accepting the walk-on spot with Purdue.
It’s the little things from Hazell, such as a handshake or hello, that have brought unity and excitement to Boilermaker fans. For others like Ti Domhoff, it’s a giant leap of faith that shows a symbol of loyalty.
We’ll soon find out if Darrell Hazell can win football games—his most important task as Purdue’s head coach. But his vision to build a community is clear and commendable.