STARKVILLE – Perhaps no assistant coach is more respected throughout the state of Mississippi than Tony Hughes.
The Forest native has spent 30 of his 34 years in coaching within the borders of his home state and is known far and wide for his recruiting prowess. Those traits made it a no-brainer for Mike Leach to retain Hughes on his staff at Mississippi State to help him get adjusted to his new surroundings.
“The most valuable resources in Mississippi are its people,” Hughes said. “How people interact and get to know you on a personal level are what the Mississippi people are all about. They want to trust you and have that personal relationship with you. Building that trust sometimes takes time.”
It marks the third staff Hughes has been on with the Bulldogs having also worked under Dan Mullen and Joe Moorhead. He has also had stints at Ole Miss, Hinds Community College, his alma mater Southern Miss and was also the head coach at Jackson State from 2016-18.
Needless to say, Hughes knows the lay of the land in the Magnolia State and the uniqueness that comes with recruiting certain areas of its geography.
“People on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are a little bit different than the people in the Delta,” Hughes said. “Or the people in the hills are a little bit different than the people in Northwest Mississippi or Northeast Mississippi. You try to explain that to (the new coaches) and condition them, it just takes time.”
Hughes and Leach bonded quickly as they crisscrossed the state trying to shore up MSU’s 2020 recruiting class in less than a month’s time. Those hours on the asphalt gave Hughes an insight into what his new boss is all about.
“He brings a different style of coaching than maybe I’ve been used to,” Hughes said. “But at the same time, he’s very businesslike in his approach. He gives you a job to do and he expects you to carry out that job.”
Obeying orders is something Hughes has plenty of experience with. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1981-84 before he began coaching at Philadelphia, South Natchez and Hattiesburg high schools.
Hughes holds the title of associate head coach for the Bulldogs and will also return to the defensive side of the ball and coach nickelbacks. Most of Hughes’ coaching career has been spent on defense but served as State’s tight ends coach last fall.
“It gives me some new energy as I go back on defense because now I’m able to relate a lot of things that people are doing offensively now days with the zone reads and RPOs,” Hughes said. “Then I’m also getting back into the 3-3-5, which I have some experience with in my past history. Being able to do that against what people are doing now days is very exciting, especially at a defensive school like Mississippi State has been throughout its history.”
Leach’s offense does not traditionally call for a tight end but it will be tweaked to fit the personnel currently on the Bulldogs’ roster. Given Hughes’ background with the four scholarship tight ends that remain, he believes their talent will shine through in the new scheme.
“I think they’ll be fine,” Hughes said. “I don’t know specifically what their plans are in detail for the development of those kids but there’s some real talent there. I think coach Leach and his offensive staff are very, very innovative in what they do so I think those kids will find themselves in a vital role on the team.”