Paul Haynes is right back where he was a skinny walk-on some 25 years ago.
Now, he’s in charge of the program he loves so much, and has been given the task of keeping Kent State moving forward.
It won’t be easy.
Haynes was formally announced as the new coach of the Golden Flashes on Tuesday, and immediately displayed a vibrancy equal of his popular predecessor, Darrell Hazell. He’s going to need it. Not only did Hazell, who left for Purdue, establish a winning culture here, he led the program to the AP poll as well as a bowl berth.
”When I got into this profession, one of my goals was to be the coach at Kent State,” said Haynes, who played here as a 168-pound defensive back in 1987-91. He was defensive coordinator at Arkansas this year after seven seasons as an assistant at Ohio State. ”I can’t believe it. It’s a dream and I haven’t landed yet. It’s been a whirlwind. The last 48 hours have been crazy.
”But I’m ready.”
Haynes, 43, will step aside so that Hazell, who became coach of the Boilermakers on Dec. 5, can guide the No. 25 Golden Flashes (11-2) to their first bowl game in 40 years. Kent State will meet Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6.
”I probably won’t even go to a practice. I don’t want to screw it up,” Haynes joked. ”I respect Coach Hazell and his staff. They need to finish it out. They’ve done a great job.”
Athletic director Joel Nielsen said Haynes was signed to a 5 1/2-year contract at $375,000 annually. Haynes also was an assistant at Michigan State, Louisville, Northern Iowa, Ferris State and Bowling Green.
Haynes and Hazell share similar football philosophies. Hazell’s Golden Flashes found success with a strong running game. Haynes, who served with Hazell on Jim Tressel’s staff with the Buckeyes, sees no reason to change.
”They have laid the foundation,” Haynes said. ”On offense, I believe in running the ball and not turning it over. Defensively, it is stop the run and create turnovers.”
Nielsen interviewed several candidates, but said Haynes was clearly the best choice.
”His leadership quality kept coming out,” Nielsen said. ”We talked with Coach Tressel and many others. They all said he was ready. We talked to Paul two years ago when we hired Darrell. We thought Darrell was a little more ready then.
”Now, Paul has done the same. He really wanted this job. We’re happy to have him.”
Haynes intends to recruit heavily in Ohio, and will place academics on par with winning.
”First, I want to graduate all players with a meaningful degree,” he said. ”And I want to win. Everybody wants to win. I’m not going to sacrifice integrity to do it.”
Kent State went 8-0 in the Mid-American Conference this season, but lost the league title game to then-No. 21 Northern Illinois, 44-37. One of the season’s memorable moments, was an impressive 35-23 road win at then-No. 15 Rutgers on Oct. 27.
”I’m a little nervous addressing everyone today, but maybe when I leave Kent State in 20 or 30 years, I’ll be good at this,” he said. ”I have a lot of Kent State pride. I love it here.”