/JSU Coach Hughes sticks to his plan despite 7 losses

JSU Coach Hughes sticks to his plan despite 7 losses

Tony Hughes, 57, took a salary cut of more than $100,000 when he took over as the Jackson State football head coach. After 31 years of being an assistant coach, Hughes was determined to become a head coach. He earned more than $400,000. At Mississippi State, Hughes was a top coach. He makes less than $300,000. At JSU he earns less than $300,000. Hughes stated that he wanted to be a coach. Hughes said, “At 56 I didn’t realize how many more opportunities I would get.” Hughes recalled a conversation with Dan Mullen, his former boss, shortly after he accepted the JSU job. Hughes was told by Mullen that he would change his mind if he sat in his office for ten minutes. Hughes still believes the same thing, although he now knows more about Mullen’s motivations. Every major problem is brought to your attention when you’re the head coach. Hughes’ JSU Tigers are a pathetic 3-7 team that has lost three of their four previous losses by a touchdown or less. They will be playing Alcorn State in Saturday’s season finale. Hughes compares it to his first season at Mississippi State with Mullen. It was 2009, Mullen’s first year at State. The season was dominated by frustration. The Bulldogs lost several close matches and were at 4-7 when they faced Ole Miss, an eight-winned team heading to the Cotton Bowl. Hughes stated that while the record did not reflect this, Hughes claimed that they were still improving and coming together as one team. “Dan kept saying, ‘Stick to the plan,’ and that’s exactly what we did.” State beat Ole Miss 41-27 in the Egg Bowl. Hughes believes this reflected the behind-the scenes progress that helped State reach six consecutive bowl seasons. Hughes believes that his Tigers are making similar progress behind-the scenes this year in terms competition, effort, discipline and teamwork ethic. After Saturday’s devastating loss to Alabama A&M, Hughes spoke of a Sunday practice. Hughes stated that he had a short workout in mind. Hughes stated that “but our players, especially seniors, didn’t want to quit practicing.” They kept repeating, “Come on coach! Let’s go!” This was the day after they had given everything and failed to win. Our guys keep fighting, keep working. “That’s all you need.” Hughes is JSU’s fourth head coach. When you take over a team with three coaches in three years, you inherit unique problems. It’s a fact. This turnover can lead to morale issues, lack discipline, commitment, focus and lack of direction, as well as recruiting gaps. Hughes is positive that the Tigers are making progress in these areas. However, he knows that closing those recruiting gaps will ultimately determine his success at Jackson State. This was what Mullen did at MSU. Recruiting gaps? Hughes said he has seven juniors in his class. Hughes will likely add junior college players to the class. Hughes is a great recruiter. Hughes’ success in this area is well documented in his stints at Ole Miss and State as well as at Southern Miss. Hughes stated that there are enough Mississippi football players to recruit the players needed to win at Jackson State. Hughes believes that. He says Hughes is still learning to adapt to his role as head coach, particularly in relation with his players. Hughes stated that players will stop by your office to talk or watch film when you’re a position coach. When a player approaches you as a head coach, it’s usually because he has a problem and wants to discuss it with you. It’s almost like the player walks in and asks you, “What’s wrong?” Although it wouldn’t solve all of JSU’s problems, it would be a positive step. It would, first and foremost, highlight the progress Hughes believes his team has made. Mississippi Today’s sports columnist is Rick Cleveland. Check out his columns as well as his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.