Football head coach Roger Hughes was fired Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the football team finished its third consecutive season with a 4-6 overall record.
Hughes was “relieved of his duties” as head coach by Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67, who has yet to confirm with Hughes what his role will be during the one year left on his contract.
The team’s 21st head coach, Hughes came to Princeton in 2000 and went 47-52 during his 10 seasons at the helm of the football program. His .474 overall winning percentage is the sixth-worst ever for a Princeton coach.
At the team’s season-ending meeting on Sunday — traditionally led by the coaching staff — Walters walked into the room and announced that Hughes would not return to coach the Tigers next season. Only Walters was present at first, but Hughes came in afterward to address the team.
Hughes could not be reached for comment.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian three hours after the announcement, Walters said he would conduct a national search for Hughes’ successor. He added that the players can expect an announcement about the next head coach “no later than the first or second week of January.”
Sophomore quarterback Tommy Wornham said that members of the team had heard rumors of Hughes’ removal prior to the meeting, but he also said that the timing of his departure was a shock.
“It was surprising how early [the announcement] was, but it’s nice because if you’re going to do it, do it early,” Wornham said.
Sophomore backup quarterback Drew Ellis added that the team “kind of knew he was on a pretty short leash since last year.”
On the other hand, senior offensive lineman and co-captain Mark Paski, who started every game of his four-year career under Hughes, said the announcement came as a blow to him.
“It was a shock,” he said. “We’ve had three tough seasons for the past three years, and perhaps it wasn’t something that had never crossed our minds, but the actual finality of it hit us.”
Wornham said that the coaching staff had been firmer than usual in the last part of the season.
“[The coaching] was pretty similar throughout,” Wornham said. “[But] at the end of the year, they wanted to tighten everything up and be a little stricter in practice.”
Wornham added that Hughes seemed upset when he spoke to the team Sunday.
“[Hughes] said he was disappointed that this was happening,” Wornham explained. “He really appreciated the opportunity to coach us. He thought we didn’t deserve what we got, because we did everything right in the offseason.”
Still, Wornham said he understood why Walters made the decision to fire Hughes, noting that many of the other teams on campus seemed to be doing well compared to the football team.
Walters said Hughes’ tenure had been disappointing recently.
“I was hoping that, at this point, we would see more progress, but it just didn’t come about in the way we would have hoped,” he said.
Looking forward, Wornham said he hoped Walters would find a coach “who brings a winning attitude.”
“I want a guy who comes in, has a lot of energy, wants us to do well and really gets the best out of us,” he said. “I want somebody who everyone wants to play for. That’s all you can ask for in a coach: someone you want to play for.”
The Tigers finished their 2009 campaign with a 4-6 overall record for the third straight year, with a 23-11 win over Dartmouth on Saturday in Hanover, N.H.
Princeton started the season 1-5 before coming back to win three of its last four games. The team was hobbled by injuries throughout — most notably to senior co-captains All-Ivy running back Jordan Culbreath and inside linebacker and co-captain Scott Britton — and it was blown out by both Columbia and Harvard, 38-0 and 37-3, respectively.
In addition to those losses, the Tigers fell to Penn, 42-7, in Philadelphia and to The Citadel, 38-7, at home. They posted a 3-4 record in Ivy League play and tied for fourth in the conference with Columbia, which hasn’t had a winning season in 13 years.
Hughes coached the football team that shared the Ivy League championship in 2006 with Yale. He had just three winning seasons in his time at Princeton, two of which came during a 16-4 run in the 2005 and 2006 seasons.