Monday, November 23, 2009

The Decade Of Roger Hughes

The title character in Pat Conroy's "The Great Santini" called everyone "Sports Fans," regardless of whether it was one person or multiple people.

As for TigerBlog, he remembers three actual people who have had the same knack for assigning a universal nickname to basically everyone they saw. The first was a woman who worked in the dining hall in West Philadelphia who called every student "Dearheart." Not "Dear" or "Sweetheart," but "Dearheart." The second is the teacher from the after-school program where Little Miss TigerBlog goes, who greets every parent by calling them "Sunshine."

The third is Roger Hughes, who was relieved of his duties as Princeton football coach Sunday after 10 seasons. Hughes calls everyone "Tiger," and TB can remember hundreds of times that Hughes has stopped by and said something like "what's up, Tiger?" or "nice day, Tiger" or anything else along those lines. When injuries would permeate his lineup, he'd offer "how'd you like to play for us this weekend, Tiger?"

And it wasn't just to TigerBlog. It was to basically anyone, male or female. TigerBlog always wondered if he had done that his whole life or if he started using "Tiger" as his universal nickname after he came to Princeton 10 years ago.

Hughes is an interesting man, the holder of a Ph.D. who became a college football coach. TigerBlog was a kid when Dick Colman coached at Princeton, but from TB hears, perhaps Hughes is the same kind of professorial coach that Colman was, though in a much different era.

TigerBlog recently wrote a story about the 1964 Princeton team for the game program, and Cosmo Iacavazzi described Colman, his coach at Princeton, this way: "He was a very intellectual man. If you met him and he said he worked at Princeton, you'd probably think he was a professor of humanities. He may have seemed out of place on the football field from a macho stereotype, but he had a great football mind."

How much of that describes Hughes? To those who've never met him and whose only context is what they see and hear, Roger Hughes is one of the nicest people around. He is a quality person who treated the Princeton football program like an extended family, who built great relationships all over the campus and who is never lacking for a smile or a kind, supportive word.

He was supportive of Princeton's overall athletic program, always in a behind-the-scenes way. In many ways, he bought into completely what Princeton athletics is all about, broad-based participation where football does not drive the whole department and athletics as an extension of education.

At the same time, he chose to enter a profession where it's so easy to be defined in one way: your record. Going back to Colman, he may have looked like a humanities professor, but when you look in the record book, he was also 75-33 and is now in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Hughes went 47-52 in 10 years. For those wondering why he coached 99 games, it's because the 2001 game against Lafayette was canceled after 9/11.

For Hughes, the bright spots on his resume are a 16-4 run in 2005 and 2006 that included a 9-1 record and Ivy title in ’06. The 2006 wins over Penn and Yale are among the best for Princeton football in the last 40 years; the nine wins that season are the most since Colman's ’64 team went 9-0.

On the other hand, he did have only three winning seasons in 10 years, with one .500 record and six losing seasons. The last three years were all 4-6.

In the end, Roger Hughes is one of five coaches in Princeton football history to coach for at least 10 years. Of the eight coaches who have been at Princeton since the formation of the Ivy League, he is one of four who has won at least one Ivy title (okay, that's a little unfair to Charlie Caldwell, whose last year of a Hall-of-Fame career was 1956, the first year of the formal Ivy League, when Princeton finished second). He's also the coach who went 31-48 when Jeff Terrell wasn't the starting quarterback.

In decades to come, when TigerBlog thinks back about Rogers Hughes, he won't remember Pete Carril's aura, Bill Carmody's sharpness, John Thompson's charisma, Joe Scott's ferocity, Bill Tierney's intensity, Steve Tosches' organization.

No, he'll remember Roger as a good man who chose to enter a tough business, a man of the highest character and integrity who ultimately was what his record said he was.



Everyone was Tiger, except Rock of course...

Anonymous said...

TB: He was better than his record indicated. You did not mention the mess he inherited. I am not blaming his predecessor or Hargadon -- fans can take their pick or create a combo explanation. But the program was very down, morale was down, relations with Admissions were poor (check the stadium's first program and count how many frosh names on the roster-- some 20 less than the team was entitled to). I appreciate Tosches contribution to Princeton football. And I am sorry to see Roger go.

Princeton OAC said...

Yes, Roger's nickname for Princeton football contact Craig Sachson is "The Rock," but TB has heard him call "The Rock" "Tiger" many times.

Brett said...

Quick story about Roger Hughes and the man he is. In his first year, Princeton played at Columbia and I decided to take the train and subway up to Baker Field. When I got to the Junction, an out-of-town family of a player was planning to do the same, but they had no idea how to get to the subway, etc. So all I did was have them follow me. After I got them to the stadium, I wandered around before coming across Coach Hughes and the family having a discussion less than 30 minutes before kickoff. When the family saw me, they excitedly told Coach that I was guy who helped them get there. And Coach spent a few minutes thanking me for all my help. I am sure everyone wants to win more games, but I took great stock of Coach Hughes' class and dignity in preparing young men. Best wishes, Coach!

Prof.Rob said...

I can say "without question" that working with Coach Roger Hughes, his staff of assistants and the players has been one of the most enjoyable times in my professional career! I have learned quite a bit from Coach Hughes and have the utmost respect for him as a coach, teacher and as an individual! Coach Hughes epitomized the idea of "The Princeton Football Family" and brought to Princeton only "the best of the best" student athletes. I am forever greatful to Coach Hughes for allowing me to work with him, his staff of assistant coaches and especially his players! I will continue to work with the players, however I will very much miss working with Coach Hughes! I wish Coach Hughes the best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Rog - Apparently they don't know what they've given up... Whatever new place is lucky enough to get you, that place will think they've hit the lottery. Sis-in-law, Diane

Anonymous said...

As the father of a potential 2010 football recruit to the
program, I'd like to thank Roger Hughes for the care he showed my son and self during our year-long conversations and visit to your campus.

Coach Hughes understood that sometimes recruits' dads wanted to talk about Calculus and Einstein inasmuch as the son wanted to talk about defensive schemes. Mr. Hughes was an excellent ambassador for your world-class university. He'll be missed.

Paul said...

I've visited with Coach Hughes during several of his recruiting trips through Tulsa. He was a great representative of PU and a talented recruiter. I think the guy who gave us the best season in the past 40 years deserved to coach out his contract one more season. I wish Coach H all the best. I wonder if we'll find a better coach for our University?

Anonymous said...

There's no doubt that Roger Hughes is a class act. My own experience with the man leaves no doubt in my mind.

But apparently this is a numbers game, so the W/L ratio carrys tremendous significance.

Except that the last all-male class to be admitted (1972) had 850 members. Now classes of 1250 are 50/50 male/female. So there are about 900 fewer men walking around campus these days than in the "old Princeton."

Which makes pining for the Colman era an effort in complete futility. Blaming the football coaching staff for a mediocre record should be offset by acknowledging that the reduced pool of potential football players has created tremendous opportunities for many of the other sports that have bolstered Princeton's Ivy and National Championship records.

Mike said...

I have had the honor to know Coach Hughes for over 20 plus years, as a player, student and friend. He has always looked for the best in everyone and would give the shirt off his back if you needed it. I have always admired the way he pours himself into others and is forever loyal. I’m a testament of that! I will always be a Coach Hughes fan. Love you Coach! Mike

Randy James said...

Princeton made a mistake in letting Coach Hughes go. Stetson U will benefit greatly by hiring him. Interesting to see all the positive comments. Nothing negative about his effort, personality and character...which says a lot about this good and moral man.