December 15, 2018 10:55:11 PM
STARKVILLE -- Gerri Green will only experience the first three weeks of Tony Hughes' return to the Mississippi State football program, but that didn't stop him and his family from being excited.
"I got phone calls from my grandma as soon as she saw it, she was excited about it," the senior defensive end said.
"I'm glad we have him back."
Therein lies the hold Hughes has over the people of Mississippi, having captivated them through recruiting relationships for decades. After a three-year stint away as Jackson State's head coach, Hughes is back as an assistant coach. Hughes held his first media availability as a Bulldog Saturday, as No. 18 MSU continued its preparation for the Outback Bowl against Iowa (8-4), where he is already helping MSU prepare for the game in a limited capacity.
"It's an opportunity for me to get back around the kids and the program itself, to learn how things are done with Coach Moorhead and his staff. It's good to get back and learn in this environment," Hughes said.
Hughes may be best known for his seven-year stay as a MSU assistant under Dan Mullen, but he has worked his way around the Southeast: three years at Ole Miss, two at Louisiana Tech, two at West Alabama and four at Hattiesburg High School. It is likely Hughes had myriad options for coaching after he was fired in October, but he said his choice to come back to MSU was an easy one.
"It's my home state, I love the people in the state of Mississippi," Hughes said. "My wife's from here, I'm from here, my family is here, my parents live here. What a great opportunity to come back to a great program where I had the opportunity to do some special things while we were here. It was kind of a no-brainer."
MSU head coach Joe Moorhead compared Hughes' role in the program to the one he had in the leadup to last year's TaxSlayer Bowl appearance: that of evaluation and recruiting. Hughes will provide insight for the coaching staff through his evaluation of practices, since the bowl practices don't give him enough time to truly master the scheme, and help the staff close its recruiting class, with the beginning of the early signing period coming Wednesday.
Going forward, Hughes' role has yet to be truly defined. He was brought in as an assistant coach, with no specific position group assigned to him. It's possible Hughes could become the tight ends coach, after Mark Hudspeth left to become the head coach at Austin Peay. He could also become a useful resource in the recruiting department if MSU chooses to fill its tight ends coach job with someone else.
At this point, the exact role isn't all that important to Hughes.
"I'm a very humble guy, military guy. I follow protocol and follow orders really well. Whatever Coach Moorhead wants me to do is what I'll do," Hughes said. "I've always heard that that's a very difficult and challenging situation to be in (going from a head coach to an assistant). This is just day two, so I'm trying to see just how challenging that's going to be for me, my personality is such that I'm used to taking orders.
"I was an assistant coach for 30 years before I was a head coach. I probably know more about being an assistant coach than I do a head coach."
There is confidence on the other side of the relationship that Hughes can execute any job given to him.
"I'm hoping nothing else happens with the staff, but (Hughes) is like a Swiss army knife: he's coached both sides of the ball, great teacher, great mentor of the fundamentals and technique and certainly his recruiting speaks for itself," Moorhead said. "I'm confident wherever we end up putting him in position, he'll exceed our expectation."
At full strength
Moorhead reiterated that he expects MSU to have every player available for the Outback Bowl, coming while the nationwide trend of top draft prospects skipping inconsequential bowl games continues on. Moorhead said the staff checked in with potential candidates in the days after the Egg Bowl and was able to quickly put the topic to bed.
"I let the position coaches take care of it, they forwarded the information on to me. There wasn't much of a need for a follow up conversation because they all said they were going to play," Moorhead said, "so that's exciting and I think it's a testament to our team and the program to finishing this thing the right way."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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