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Hughes are you?: Little-known assistant becomes new head football coach

After a seven-week national search, the University announced at a press conference Friday morning that the 80 candidates to be its next football head coach had been winnowed down to one – Roger Hughes, Dartmouth's offensive coordinator.

A self-proclaimed "long-shot" candidate to replace Steve Tosches, who resigned Nov. 23, Hughes emerged with the "consensus support" of both University and alumni selection committees to take charge of Princeton football, according to Director of Athletics Gary Walters '67.


"Roger's coaching knowledge, knowledge of the league [and] respect for the high standards by which we conduct our athletic programs at Princeton – combined with his communication skills – made him the logical choice of the committee and the University," Walters said.

Hughes arrives at his first head coaching job after a winding 17-year path through various coaching circles.

'Somewhat overwhelming'

"It is somewhat overwhelming since I've never been through this," Hughes said. "I think I'm very ready for it. Certainly there's going to be a learning experience going on, but I'm a quick learner."

Throughout the search to replace Tosches, many names of potential candidates surfaced in published reports. Among them, John Garrett '88 – the quarterbacks coach of the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals – confirmed that he interviewed on campus for the job. Neither the on-campus committee, comprised of faculty and administrators, nor Walters would confirm the identities of the three other final candidates.

To provide an independent opinion on the final candidates' coaching abilities, Walters enlisted Homer Smith '54 – who coached college football for 41 years – to review game tapes.

"I think Roger Hughes' offense was beautiful," Smith said. "He didn't appear to be playing with great passing talent. The offense was exceptionally well-executed.


"It jumped off the tape. It was just fun to watch."

History professor and on-campus committee member Robert Tignor said that his committee was "not a football group."

"We were looking at someone who was joining our community," he said. "I think there's more to being a football coach than the Xs and Os. [Hughes] was very enthusiastic about the values of the place."

Another committee member, Associate Dean of Student Life Kathleen Deignan, cited Hughes' experience and "sense of the role of athletics at an Ivy League institution."


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Prior to the press conference to announce his selection, Hughes met with his new team to introduce himself.

"Certainly there's going to be a time of gaining mutual respect and trust, but I'm going to work very hard at that," Hughes said. "I was very pleased about the reaction that we had. They're certainly anxious to get moving for next season."

"We're all really happy that they named a coach – and that they named him as coach," junior linebacker and next year's team captain Michael Higgins said. "We're looking forward to getting started and getting to know him a little better. We're all happy to kind of turn the page."

Hughes said that he hopes to address his "trifecta" of solidifying his staff of assistants, contacting committed recruits and meeting with players already on campus. Hughes, who has full discretion to select his staff, met with the team's current assistants Friday afternoon.

"Right now it's a very positive development for the program – for the kids we're recruiting and [the current team]," offensive coordinator Joe Susan said.

Hughes hopes to have his staff fully in place by February.

"I think we're going to be able to attract a number of good candidates," Hughes said. "We may hire two or three and then hire two or three later once recruiting's over. We have to figure out where we want to go with the current staff."

The recruiting issue is also a pressing concern for the new coach, although the team's current assistants have continued their normal recruiting efforts ever since Tosches' departure.

"Hopefully, with me getting in there, assuring them of what Princeton can bring them, I'm hoping that recruiting won't be affected dramatically," Hughes said. "Certainly it's going to be a scramble initially, but I think that we can get caught up."