By JOEL COLEMAN
Tony Hughes has coached football in and around the Magnolia State for over three decades. The Mississippi State safeties coach and recruiting coordinator has had stops at Southern Miss and Ole Miss. He’s led units at Louisiana Tech and West Alabama. Hughes has been on staffs at three Mississippi high schools and a junior college. Through it all, there’s one goal that remains unachieved. Hughes has never been a head coach.
Rumors have swirled that the 56-year-old Forest native could get that chance. Footballscoop.com reported on Friday that Hughes has emerged as a strong candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Jackson State.
Hughes addressed those rumblings after Saturday’s MSU football practice.
“The only thing I’ll say is that, in my career, 31 years of coaching, I would love to be a head coach,” Hughes said. “As a career assistant in the SEC, high school coach and junior college (coach), I would love to be a head coach in my career.”
Hughes is aware his name has been brought up at JSU, but says he has had no contact with the Tigers.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody within (the Jackson State) athletic department concerning that,” Hughes said. “They have an opening for a head football coach and one day, I’d love to be a head football coach.”
In the meanwhile, Hughes is still very much committed to his current role with the Bulldogs. With the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina against NC State looming on Dec. 30, Hughes has his hands full trying to correct what he considers the biggest flaw Mississippi State had on defense this season.
“We’ve got to tackle,” Hughes said. “That’s the difference in football games sometimes. It’s not the big things. It’s the little things. So as the young group (of safeties) plays together, and they’ll get older, they’ll make those tackles in the future and the results of those games can be a lot different. If we make three more plays, who knows where we’d be? We may be playing in the semifinals (of the College Football Playoff). It’s that competitive in the SEC. It comes down to one or two plays.”
Hughes is in awe of the talent Mississippi State possesses at the safety position. Between true freshmen Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin, as well as redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant, Hughes is confident the position is in good hands regardless of if he’s around in maroon and white to oversee the progression.
“You talk about a great future,” Hughes said. “I’m amazed just watching them run around out here (Saturday). They’re long, they’re athletic and they’re getting better. The bowl practice is the best thing in the world for them because they have the chance to come out and improve every day.”
Maybe Hughes, too, will get the chance to better himself by achieving his goal of being a head coach. After all his years of experience though, Hughes says he’ll wait to cross that bridge until the moment it arrives.
“After 31 years of coaching and coaching with different people and different personalities, you just kind of learn to stay focused on the things that are really important,” Hughes said. “The most important things right now, on a day-to-day basis are my players and coaching my players and doing a great job at Mississippi State.”