Interview by Nick Shook
Photo by Marianna Fierro
Paul Haynes, Kent State’s new head football coach, on his upbringing, winning and losing and what makes a good football player – on and off the field.
> I’ve got two older sisters. Mom and Dad were hard workers. I got a lot of my work ethic from them because they worked at the same place — my mom worked for the state, my dad worked for a place called Fournier Rubber for probably over 20 or 30 years. [They] kind of started from the bottom and worked their way all the way up top.
> I think it again goes back to my childhood, seeing my parents grind so much. They get up early; they drop us off; they go to work; they take a bus down to their job; they had someone take me to practice. Just all that sacrifice and that grinding to make sure the job was done. I guess the grind concept doesn’t mean that you’re there until one o’clock. That’s not grinding. Grinding to me is making sure you get the job done, and you’re not going to finish until the job is done.
> I still to this day go back to one of my greatest mentors, my high school football coach Tony Pusateri. He’s the first person I call when a job comes about because I want his opinion — because I know it comes from the heart. I only lost four games in my high school career, and it was all in one year. It was just simple, it was sound, it was execution, it was faith, commitment, sacrifice — it was all those words that are important.
> Nobody on that team went and played big-time football. They were all Division III players, so it wasn’t like we were overly talented. But we played together as a team. We didn’t do a lot of talking; it was all about what we did on the field. We were together, and I think that all started from the structure of the school, of the type of school that we went to. It starts up top with the head guy and what he believed in. Nobody cared about credit. When you listen to a lot of the things that I talk about today, it’s still those things, and I think it all starts there.
> I love this job because of the relationships that you build with kids, and you see them kind of start from that 18-year-old that they think they know everything — and they really don’t — and then grow into a man and leave at 22. That was the part of [being with the Jacksonville Jaguars] that I missed the most in that year. Because it’s a job. They punch in and they punch out because it’s their profession. But it was nothing that everybody thinks it is — you know, “They don’t listen, they’re rich, they don’t do this.” Those guys want to be the best at their profession, so they want coached, and they want coached well. But the thing that they’ll do is they’ll test you to see if you know what you’re doing. And if you don’t, then they won’t listen.
> I would have wanted [this job] either way because if it was still the so-called “down,” I would want to be the one to change it. Now that it is where it is, I want to keep it.
> There’s a lot of things that can control winning. I look back on why we went 1-10 [in college] is because I allowed things to happen. Either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.
> Unfortunately, everything is based off of wins and losses. I don’t want to just weigh everything on winning because there’s a lot more than just winning — although of course winning cures all. There’s a wrong way to win, too, and you know as a coach if you’re doing it the right way or you’re doing it the wrong way, and I want to definitely do it the right way.
> These guys got to understand it’s more than me being the head coach — we’re all the same. We’re all part of this brotherhood. Far after I’m the head coach here and far after they’ve left here, we all have something in common [in] that we are a Kent State football player. It’s a little bit more of me teaching them that those things are important in life, not just in football. The game of football is just like the game of life, and if you don’t have dedication, sacrifice, and you don’t talk about it and you shy away from it, you’re going to lose. You’re going to lose in life. Somebody is going to outwork you. You can’t get outworked. You can’t get outworked because you chose compromise.
> I’ll never forget one year I was in high school. I ran the ball all the way down to the one-yard line, and I got taken out and they put someone else in. I’m sitting on the sideline, pissed and steaming, and Coach Pusateri, he knew it, and he came up to me after the game — or, I think, the next day — and he says, “I’m not thinking about who scores. All I’m thinking about is scoring. It’s not about who scores, it’s about we scored.”
> It goes back to those relationships and how it’s about people. One of the things Darrell [Hazell] instilled here is the commitment, the sacrifice, treating people the right way, talking to people the right way, believing. Everybody looks at Ohio State and thinks, “Oh, they’re talented — just go out there and play and win.” But it’s a lot more than that. Those guys felt good about themselves. Those guys felt good about playing for Ohio State.
> What is success? We’ve got to get to a bowl game, that’s no secret. We’ve got to get back to a bowl game — keep the momentum going. I want to get 55 guys or higher with a 3.0 [GPA]. We’re at a 2.8 or 2.7; I want to get it to a 3.0. I want to have the most Academic All-Americans, not just All-Americans, that we’ve ever had, and All-MAC.
> I just want everyone who is a part of this place to be proud of what they see. I think that’s one of the main things, and again I think it comes from the heart of being an alumnus here. I just want people to be proud of this program, and if that is winning, if that is the 3.0, if that is what they see us doing out in the community — all of those things I want for the future of Kent.
> This is what I tell recruits and what I tell everybody — and this may sound crazy– but for one, you never choose a school because of the coach. What you buy into is the locker room. You buy into those guys in the locker room. Why do you want to play hard? Because of them. It has nothing to do with me coaching, it has nothing to do with who’s the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator, your position coach. It has to do with the dudes in the locker room.
> This is the number one thing I told [Dri Archer]: I said, “The only way I want you to come back is if I want you to be the best player you can possibly be. If that’s not in your heart, then you need to go to the NFL.” I’ve said probably everybody else would want me to be on my hands and knees begging, but I’ve seen this before, when guys come back and they’re awful because they don’t want to get hurt – they don’t play to their maximum talent because they’re thinking about their future. And I didn’t want that. The only other thing that I told him is make sure that you talk to a bunch of people before you make your decision. When you just have you and your mom going through it, shoot, we’ve got the same concerns. Let’s talk to other people that have been in the situation. Let’s talk to people who have made both decisions — they’ve left and it was good, they left and it was bad. Because I think everybody from here was telling him about the times that people left and it was bad, just to keep him here. When I talked to him, I told him, “I’m not telling you what to do. You’ve got to decide what you want to do. But I know, being the head coach of this team, I only want you to come back if you want to be the best player. You ain’t going to get special treatment. You’re not going to get this, you’re not going to get that. You’re all in. If you come back, let’s go.”
> [To] a lot of guys , $300,000 sounds like a lot when you’re in college and you have nothing. But when you’re talking $300,000 for three years or five years and you’re done, you aren’t changing lives. I think guys don’t realize that because when you throw out those numbers, it sounds like a lot of money. But you’re only 24 and you’ve got the rest of your life to go, and you’ve only got $100,000 in the bank, and when everybody hears NFL, they start coming. Cousins, brothers –they want that lifestyle. You change lives when you make millions over the years, but you don’t change lives getting drafted in the seventh round or getting a free agent when you can better yourself.
> Good players are good because of their talent, but every great player I’ve been around — their work ethic was off the roof. AJ Hawk was AJ Hawk for a reason. Malcolm Jenkins was Malcolm Jenkins for a reason. Those guys had the best work ethic. Donte Whitner, those guys were off the ceiling with work ethic. It wasn’t just God-given that they were good. You know, they could run fast, but they put so much work into it that there couldn’t have been failure. That’s what I like to talk to these guys about. You’re only going to be as good as the work you put into it. If you’re satisfied with where you are, that’s where you’ll end up next year.
See our May issue for Nick Shook’s full story on Paul Haynes