Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 47
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
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ROGER AND OUT: Princeton University football head coach Roger Hughes ponders his options in recent action. Last Sunday, Hughes was dismissed from his post after a decade at the helm of the program. Hughes went 47-52 in his tenure, highlighted by a 16-4 run in 2005-06 that saw the Tigers go 9-1 in ’06 and share the Ivy League crown with Yale. Since that championship campaign, however, Princeton has posted three successive 4-6 seasons.

PU Football Experiences Turbulent Weekend; Tops Dartmouth but Coach Hughes Dismissed

Bill Alden

Last weekend started out on a high note for Princeton University football head coach Roger Hughes and his squad.

Finishing a disappointing season in style, Princeton won 23-11 at Dartmouth in its season finale.

Hughes, a former offensive coordinator for Dartmouth, lauded his players for the character they displayed as they went 3-1 in the final four games after a 1-5 start.

“We dealt with a lot of adversity this season and make no excuses, but I felt like our guys deserved to finish strongly,” said Hughes in the post-game media conference.

“Never once did any of our players or coaches talk about playing out the string. We fought to the end, and I’m very proud of this group for dealing with the adversity and finishing the way we did.”

Less than 24 hours later, Hughes faced some serious personal adversity, getting dismissed from his post after 10 years on the job.

Hughes went 47-52 in his tenure, highlighted by a 16-4 run in 2005-06 that saw the Tigers go 9-1 in ’06 and share the Ivy League crown with Yale.

Since that championship campaign, however, Princeton has posted three successive 4-6 seasons. In Hughes’ decade at the helm, the Tigers went 2-8 versus Harvard, 4-6 against Yale, and 5-5 against Brown.

In a statement issued regarding Hughes’ dismissal, Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters praised the coach’s character but maintained that the program needs to go in a new direction.

“Roger Hughes has been a fine ambassador of the football program during his tenure as head coach,” said Walters, who noted that a national search for a new coach would begin immediately with Hughes finishing out his contract in a yet-to-be-determined role with the Athletics Department.

“The University is grateful for his service, integrity, and effort on behalf of the Princeton football program. Ultimately, given its commitment to achieving excellence across the board, the University has determined that a fresh start in the football program is needed.”

In reacting to the decision, Hughes, an old school gentleman and man of deep religious faith, took the high road.

“I really don’t want to comment on my reaction,” said Hughes in a phone interview late Sunday afternoon. “I just want to wish Princeton the best.”

Hughes acknowledged that this was a tough fall for Princeton, starting with senior co-captain and star running back Jordan Culbreath getting sidelined and having to battle for his life after being diagnosed with aplastic anemia.

“It was disappointing for a number of reasons,” said Hughes. “No. 1 is what happened to Jordan and what he is going through.”

For Hughes, there were highlights in his tenure on and off the field. “The Ivy League Championship season, clearly, and improving the facilities,” said Hughes, when reflecting on his decade at Princeton.

“We have a new weight room and a new field turf practice field under construction. The number of lives that have been positively impacted; I think that has to be a huge high point. It has been great having that experience and influence on the future leaders of America.”

One of the 2009 team’s leaders, senior co-captain and star offensive lineman Mark Paski, was stunned to hear the news about Hughes which was communicated to the players by Walters last Sunday at the program’s annual season-ending meeting.

“The way we ended the season, winning three of the last four games with a great win over Yale and a great performance against Dartmouth, it was a shock,” said Paski.

“It wasn’t really on our minds on our way down there. We, as a team, care a great deal about each other and about the coaching staff. We spent a great amount of time with our assistant coaches and Coach Hughes. It is never easy news to take.”

Hughes did speak to the team after Walters made his announcement. “It was nice to be able to have Coach Hughes come in and talk to us,” said Paski.

“He said he was grateful to have had the opportunity to coach us. He reiterated to each member of the team that although he was no longer the head coach, he was available for letters of recommendations and to talk to us as a mentor.”

Paski credited Hughes with keeping the Tigers on task as they dealt with a series of setbacks, including Culbreath’s illness and season-ending injuries to such key players as Scott Britton, Peter Yorck, and Jeff Jackson.

“He did a good job along with the assistant coaches of getting us refocused,” said Paski. “When you lose Jordan the way we did and then such valuable seniors like Britton, Yorck, and Jackson get hurt, it is tough. I give a lot of credit to members of the team and the coaching staff for pulling us together.”

The 6’5, 275-pound native of Chester, N.J. is left with a bittersweet feeling even as his Tiger career ended on a high note with the win over Dartmouth.

“It has been a tumultuous 24 hours,” said Paski. “The Dartmouth game means a lot to so many people. It is the last game for seniors and the final game of their football career for most of them. A good number of our coaches coached at Dartmouth so it is a big thing for them. It is the last time this group of players and coaches will be together. For us to be able to play the sound game that we played with the exception of few miscues in the first half, was a great way to end the season.”

Now, Paski is hoping Hughes will experience some great things in his future.

“Like many other members of the Princeton football family, I wish Coach Hughes the best in whatever he decides to pursue from here,” said Paski. “I am very appreciative of what he has taught us.”

Hughes, for his part, isn’t sure what the future holds. “I am going to take a step back,” said Hughes. “It has been a stressful season and I want to consider my options.”

As Hughes does that, Walters will be left with the task of choosing the option that will help the program take the step forward he deems necessary.

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