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Vol. LXIII, No. 31
 
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
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HEAVY RESPONSIBILITY: Greg Hughes makes a point in a practice during his successful tenure as the head coach of the Princeton University men’s lightweight program. Last week, Hughes, who guided the lightweight first varsity to a perfect season this past spring, was named to follow Curtis Jordan as the head coach of the PU men’s heavyweight program. Hughes, a Tiger star rower in the mid-1990s, coached the men’s freshman heavyweights for eight years before taking over the lightweight program in 2005.

Following the Footsteps of Longtime Mentor, Hughes Takes Over PU Heavyweight Crew

Bill Alden

Greg Hughes got his start in coaching crew when Curtis Jordan took a chance on him.

After a potential job at his high school in Puget Sound fell through, 1996 Princeton University alum and star lightweight rower Hughes latched on as a volunteer coach at the Tiger boathouse with Jordan’s blessing.

When freshman heavyweight coach Mike Teti left Princeton in 1997 to coach the U.S. national team, Jordan tabbed Hughes to take the open spot.

After eight years of coaching the freshman heavyweights which saw him lead the boat to a Henley Royal Regatta title in 2003, Hughes took over the Princeton men’s lightweight program in 2005.

By this past spring, Hughes had molded the first varsity lightweight crew into one of the best in the history of the sport as it went undefeated, winning the Eastern Sprints, Intercollegiate Rowing Association national title and a Henley championship along the way.

But as spring turned into summer, the venerable Jordan decided to retire after 30 years at the Princeton boathouse, the last 19 coaching the men’s heavyweights.

Now, Hughes is taking the chance to follow in his mentor’s footsteps, getting named last week as the Tiger men’s heavyweight head coach.

As Hughes assumes his new post, he credits Jordan with being in his corner all the way.

“It is an exciting opportunity for me, the program has always been special to my heart,” said Hughes.

“Curtis has had such a big role in my coaching. I spoke with him after getting the job and he was incredibly generous, telling me that they made the right choice.”

Of course, Hughes did feel some pangs of regret about making the choice to leave the lightweight program.

“It was bittersweet, it is exciting to take on a new challenge and a new league but I am leaving a team and a program that is close to my heart,” said Hughes.

“No question, these have been four of the most fun years of my life. Those guys were a big part of it.”

As he follows Jordan, Hughes wants to continue his predecessor’s approach of making the boathouse a fun place for all rowers who walk in the door.

“That is a major goal,” said Hughes. “What I need to set out is how can I promote my role. In some years, it is easier than others. I want every rower who comes into the boathouse, no matter what team they are with, to feel that they are part of something special.”

Jordan, for his part, knows that Hughes is a special coach. “Greg is a proven winner and leader; he is ready to take over the program and take it where it needs to go,” asserted Jordan. “I am excited to see what he is going to do with the program.”

It didn’t take long for Hughes to impress Jordan with his coaching acumen. “It became very clear that he had a lot more than just enthusiasm,” said Jordan, recalling Hughes’ work in his first year on the staff. “He really understood the sport, its history, physiology, and psychology.”

Jordan remembers that Hughes stood out in his rowing career even though he was on the small side for a lightweight rower.

“One thing about Greg that people saw is that he was a tough kid,” said Jordan. “He kept his nose to the grindstone. He may not have had the size, height, and physiology of some of the other rowers but he did what it took to be good.”

Hughes is ready to help the heavyweights do what it takes to be good as they look to rebound from a disappointing 1-6 campaign.

“It is an organic process; I need to watch the guys,” said Hughes. “They will dictate that, a lot of it will depend on the start of the season and how they come back. These guys know there is no more last year; they are excited for a clean slate. They need to develop confidence and a team ethic. They need to set goals and clip them off one at a time.”

In taking the helm of the program, Hughes will rely on a philosophy that has served him well since his days as a Princeton rower.

“Rowing is the best example of democracy in sports,” asserted Hughes. “What you put into it, comes out. Day-to-day hard work is what leads you to success. It doesn’t require a lot of coordination or a ton of athleticism. An average athlete who works really hard can become really good.”

And if Hughes can help his new team become really good in a hurry, he will prove himself a worthy successor to his mentor.

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