CHARLESTON — On retired Eastern Illinois football coach Bob Spoo’s long list of former assistants now with notable jobs, this one was a bit special.

Darrell Hazell, the running backs coach for Spoo’s 1988 Eastern Illinois team, is now the head coach at Spoo’s alma mater Purdue after two years as the head coach at Kent State.

“He was just a great young man,” Spoo said. “He just grew when he left here. He developed as he went up the profession. I think he has earned that. I am very happy for him. I am glad he is coaching my alma mater.”

Spoo, a former Purdue quarterback and then offensive coordinator for the Boilermakers before coming to Eastern in 1987, is not claiming credit for helping start the coaching career of Hazell, who came to Eastern from Oberlin College in Ohio.

Hazell filled the running backs spot when Dino Babers left Eastern after the 1987 season in a career that eventually brought Babers back to the Panthers as the head coach for this past Ohio Valley Conference championship season.

Leaving Eastern to be the offensive coordinator at Oberlin, Hazell then moved on to Penn, Western Michigan, Army, West Virginia and Rutgers before spending seven years at Ohio State where he was the assistant head coach to Jim Tressel.

Hazell landed his first head coaching job in December 2010 at Kent State where he went 5-7 and placed third in the Mid-American Conference at 4-4 before being named the MAC Coach of the Year this season going 8-0 for the MAC East title and finishing 11-2 overall with a loss to Northern Illinois for the conference championship.

“He has earned it on his own,” Spoo said. “I’m grateful for what he did for us.”

Now Hazell has the job at Purdue where another of Spoo’s former assistants Brock Spack had also been mentioned as possibilities to replace the fired Danny Hope.

Spack is still busy as the head coach at Illinois State, which after beating Appalachian State 38-37 in overtime last week is in the NCAA Football Championship quarterfinals facing Eastern Washington.

Former Mattoon offensive coordinator and Tuscola graduate George Barnett is the offensive line coach at Illinois State.

Eastern Washington has a Spoo connection, too.

Brian Strandley, who was the defensive line coach for Spoo’s last EIU team in 2011, is now the tight ends and offensive tackles coach at Eastern Washington which is 10-2 going into Saturday’s quarterfinal against Illinois State.

Three of the 24 teams in the FCS playoffs had head coaches who worked under Spoo at Eastern – Babers, Spack and Brian Jenkins of Bethune-Cookman.

Jenkins is now one of six finalists for the head coaching job at FCS Southern University in Louisiana.

At least one more local tie is involved in the FCS playoffs where Jeff Monken, the nephew of former Charleston High School coach Bill Monken, is the head coach of Georgia Southern which is 9-3 going into a Saturday quarterfinal game against 11-1 old Dominion.

Contact Nielsen at bnielsen@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6856.

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