Everyone has something nice to say about new head football coach Roger Hughes — former players, coaches, associates and now current ones, too. Aside from the fact that Hughes is the well-rounded individual that Princeton desired, everyone in the business agrees that Hughes brings with him a great understanding of the game, in particular the nuances of Ivy League football.
The high standards of admission and the lack of athletic scholarships often make recruiting a significant challenge for the conference's coaches. But Hughes is well aware of this fact.
"He's a coach who can really work well with talent, even when there's limited talent," Dartmouth senior running back Reginald Belhomme said. "He knew how to split good defenses, spread the field and exploit different weaknesses that other teams didn't see, and he was able to do that on a weekly basis."
"You have to adjust to the talent around you," Hughes said. "What I try to do in our system is not have to change the terminology, not have to change the pocket scheme, but just emphasize different parts of the offense depending on what talent we have."
Hughes has taken an important step in establishing his style of offense here at Princeton by hiring new offensive coordinator Dave Rackovan.
"I worked with [Rackovan] in Dartmouth for eight years and he pretty much knows what I want before I say it," Hughes said. "We kind of think alike. I really wanted to work with the same system offensively down here."
The offensive system that Hughes runs is a multiple pro-I, splitting time between formations with one and two running backs. Hughes has about five run schemes, based mainly around zone concepts.
In the passing game, he uses what is commonly referred to as a "West Coast" offense. Hughes emphasizes an intermediate and short passing game.
"My ideal is to get the completions and let the kids run with it," Hughes said. "Don't try to force it 40 yards down the field and hope to complete one. Let's complete a six-yard pass and let them run for 20."
Hughes runs a lot of motions and a lot of shifts, and looks to try and get physical mismatches.
"We try to get a running back on a linebacker — try to get our best receiver on their worst defensive back, [for example]," Hughes said. "We're also flexible in that we can match any pass protection with any pattern so that if a certain person has a bad matchup — let's say a left tackle can't block a right defensive end — I can slide the line to him or help double team him with a back or somehow to help that and not ruin the integrity of the pattern that the quarterback reads."
Remaining flexible and adapting to play against his opponent, Hughes emphasizes confusing the opposing team. Hughes will run the same pattern out of a number of formations, which poses different problems for the defense. Hughes also has a few tricks up his sleeve, and no doubt enjoyed the National Football League's Tennessee Titans' last-second kickoff return against the Buffalo Bills during this year's playoffs. That play came off a sideways pitch from one kickoff returner to another.
"We're going to have fun with shovels and reverses and throwbacks and things like that," Hughes said.
Hughes has met with many of the players individually so far, including several times with sophomore quarterback Tommy Crenshaw, although the head coach has been emphasizing less of the offensive scheme and more of getting to know the players.
"When I was talking to him it was more just like on a personal level, like getting to know each other, not so much football," Crenshaw said. "[At the meeting on Tuesday], he was basically saying that we're not getting any transfers in next year and the freshmen aren't going to help us out a lot so basically we're going to win or lose next year with the guys in this room."
Hughes is hungry for his first win as head coach, and is confident that his players will perform under the new offense.
"It's an offense that I don't think you have to have dominating personnel to be successful with," Hughes said. "I think our offense has been successful overall [at Dartmouth], and again, it's been successful even when we didn't have a lot of talent."