KENT, Ohio -- Paul Haynes is right back where he was a skinny walk-on some 25 years ago as he takes over the reins at Kent State.

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, he led the Kent State program to a spot in 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 at Kent State as a 168-pound defensive back from 1987-91. He was defensive coordinator at Arkansas this season after seven years 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 said.

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 said. ''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 [Haynes] two years ago when we hired Darrell [Hazell]. We thought Darrell [Hazell] was a little more ready then.

''Now, Paul [Haynes] has done the same. He really wanted this job. We're happy to have him,'' Nielsen said.

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,'' Haynes 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, but maybe when I leave Kent State in 20 or 30 years, I'll be good at this,'' Haynes said. ''I have a lot of Kent State pride. I love it here.''