If there was any doubt that Darrell Hazell was the right man for the job as Kent State's 20th football coach, consider this endorsement from Ted Ginn Jr.
''I think this is going to be a stepping stone,'' Ginn said by phone last week. ''One day when Coach Tress is done, that should be the next guy in line.''
Now a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, Ginn wasn't trying to rush Ohio State coach Jim Tressel out the door. That's just how much Ginn thinks of Hazell, 46, OSU's assistant head coach and receivers coach for the past seven years who was introduced as Doug Martin's successor Dec. 20.
And Ginn is not alone.
''He's not the first person to say that,'' former OSU receiver Anthony Gonzalez, now with the Indianapolis Colts, said of Ginn's prediction. ''[Hazell] is first class all the way. An unbelievable coach and an even better guy.''
Ginn and Gonzalez are two of five former receivers Hazell coached at Ohio State who are playing in the NFL, along with Santonio Holmes, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie. Charged with delivering Kent State its first winning season since 2001 and third above .500 since 1978, Hazell intends to use those connections.
Talking to the five almost every other week, Hazell said Ginn and Gonzalez have expressed interest in working out in the offseason at Kent State. A Glenville High School product, Ginn lives in the Cleveland area, as do Gonzalez's parents.
''Any opportunity to be around him,'' Ginn said. ''Coach Hazell is one of those guys who was like my everything. When I got to Ohio State, he took me under his wing and made me more like a son to him than a player.
''I came in as a defensive back and they converted me to wideout three weeks before the season started. He used to tell me all the time, 'We're going to take it slow. You're going to make it.' I love his little son Kyle, I'm always asking about him. Kent got one of the best ever.''
A St. Ignatius graduate, Gonzalez said when he comes home ''it's always nice to have a college facility'' to work out in. But he wants to see Hazell for more reasons than that.
''He and I developed a great relationship over the years. I really appreciate all he did for me and my development as a player and just who he is as a person,'' Gonzalez said.
''He also taught me the technique required to be a successful receiver. He knows everything and gets the finer points across. I've been in the NFL four years and there's nothing I've been taught that he didn't already teach me. It's all reinforcing the fundamentals that Coach Hazell taught me.''
Hearing that, you can see why the Jacksonville Jaguars tried to lure Hazell away from Ohio State two years ago to be receivers coach.
''It just happened too fast,'' Hazell said. ''I didn't feel like I had enough time to make a good decision, that's why I stepped away from it.''
He'll maintain ties with the NFL in his own way. Hazell knows the advantage Ohio State enjoyed by having its alumni work out at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. While Kent State's 10 players on NFL rosters as of November was high among Mid-American Conference schools, few of them except Joshua Cribbs of the Browns return regularly. Hazell vows to change that, even hoping to draw out rarely seen Hall of Famer Jack Lambert.
Hazell knows what his players can learn from the pros.
''It's going to be good, get some of those high-profile guys around our guys, they'll certainly become high-profile guys,'' he said.
Hazell seems undaunted by the challenge of coaching at a basketball school. Part of the reason is that the administration is emphasizing football, evidenced by his $300,000 salary.
''That's not true. We've got to change that image,'' Hazell said. Asked how he will make that happen, he said, ''You've got to win and you've got to do it the right way and you've got to get the football family back, the ex-players back involved. And make sure everyone understands it's not a basketball school, even though they've succeeded extremely well in basketball and Coach [Geno] Ford does an excellent job. We've got to make sure we understand it's a multiple-sport university.''
It's not hard to imagine Hazell conveying that message to athletes and their parents when he walks into their living rooms. He's sincere and genuine with a dazzling smile that will melt mothers' hearts.
''Everyone I talk to says he's an amazing recruiter,'' Gonzalez said. ''When you're around certain people you get the sense they're good people, they mean well and their heart's in the right place. You get that impression being around Coach Hazell.''
Another obstacle for Hazell will be Kent State's non-conference schedule, always heavy on BCS-eligible teams. In 2010, the Golden Flashes went to Boston College and Penn State. Kent State has started 1-2 or worse eight times in the past 11 seasons.
''We want to play in that light, to play the Alabamas and the Ohio States and the Penn States,'' Hazell said. ''Hopefully we're going to be able to compete with those teams in the future.
''That may sound unrealistic to some people. But I've lived it for the last seven years here at Ohio State. I know a lot of the teams we play probably don't have the depth we have, but all you have to do is beat 'em one day. It's not like you've got to play them 12 weeks of the year.''
Hazell has the personality, the honesty and the character to change the football culture at Kent State, but that alone might not be enough. Some who came before him shared those traits as well.
Hazell will also rely on his connections and his unwavering fearlessness. So Teddy and Gonzo, c'mon down.