It was never a matter of if, but when head football coach Darrell Hazell would leave Kent State University.
But that didn't make it any easier for anyone associated with the Golden Flashes football program to take on Wednesday, when Hazell officially announced that he had accepted the head coaching position at Purdue University late Tuesday night.
Especially for Hazell himself.
"Obviously there's a lot of mixed emotions when something like this happens," said a glassy-eyed and weary Hazell during a hastily arranged Wednesday morning press conference at the M.A.C. Center. "I got the offer (Tuesday) at about 4:30 and accepted the job at about 9 o'clock to go be the head coach at Purdue University. I'm excited about that new chapter in my life, but obviously it's always hard to leave people that you love.
"I can't thank the people at Kent State enough. I'm very grateful for my time here and the friendships and the relationships that I've built in a short period of time."
Hazell, 48, refused to discuss his contract with Purdue, but he reportedly signed a six-year deal worth $12 million. His contract with Kent State was worth $300,000 annually, making him the lowest-paid coach in the MAC, and included a $900,000 buyout that contractually must be paid to Kent State since he opted out early.
Typically the two schools involved and the coach negotiate a percentage of the buyout, but Kent State refused to do so when Flashes men's basketball coach Geno Ford was hired abruptly by Bradley University in 2011. Kent State filed a lawsuit against Ford, which is still pending.
Things seem to be going much more smoothly with Hazell and Purdue.
"I certainly don't expect any issues," said KSU Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen. "Our legal has had conversations with his people and everybody feels really good about where we're at."
Hazell will stay on to coach the Flashes in their first bowl game since 1972, the GoDaddy.com Bowl against Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State (9-3) on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.
After accepting the Purdue job late Tuesday night, Hazell arranged to meet first with his coaching staff, then with his players early Wednesday morning.
"I kept it brief because I knew it would get emotional," said Hazell. "Literally I was in the room for probably five minutes. I just told them the facts. Then I told them I'm proud of them, that I have a lot of respect for them, that they are the reason for the success that we've had and that if they ever needed anything from me they could reach out to me.
"I told them that I loved them and I walked out."
How did the players respond?
"They clapped," said Hazell.
Hazell certainly deserves an ovation after leading the 2012 Golden Flashes (11-2) to a school-record 11 victories, including a record 10-game winning streak, and to the Mid-American Conference East Division Championship Game. Kent State fell 44-37 in double-overtime to Northern Illinois in that title game in Detroit but still received a bowl bid after capturing its first MAC title of any kind since 1972, when Don James led the Flashes to what remains their only overall MAC crown.
"This year the stars aligned, everything worked out for us," said Hazell. "We had a lot of good players, and we made plays when we had to make plays. This was a phenomenal year."
Hazell becomes the first coach to leave Kent State after a job well done based on wins and losses since Glen Mason bolted for Kansas in 1987 after going 12-10 in two years. In Hazell's case it was a job extremely well done. The 2012 MAC Coach of the Year leaves the Flashes with a 16-9 record, and the highest winning percentage in KSU coaching history (.640).
"I'm not sure I'm leaving a legacy," said Hazell. "I hope that I've touched enough people that I've made a difference in their lives, helped make them a little bit better. That's all I want to be remembered as."
Hazell will succeed Danny Hope at Purdue. Hope was dismissed on Nov. 25 after compiling a 22-27 record in four seasons with the Boilermakers.
"Opportunities like this do not come along every single day," said Hazell. "This is an opportunity that's very positive for me and that I feel I need to do. You always think, are you being selfish by leaving? But I've coached 27 years in college football and I realize this is part of the business."
After his 16-minute press conference ended, Hazell thanked everyone for coming. As he quickly walked out of the room, nearly 100 Kent State University faculty and staff members who filled the back of the conference room gave him a fitting tribute.