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Monday, November 23, 2009

Thoughts: Princeton Fires Head Football Coach Roger Hughes

I saw the story in my morning paper and wasn't surprised. The Tigers were 47-52 under Hughes during his ten-year tenure, had 3 winning seasons and 1 shared Ivy title during that time. I've met Coach Hughes on occasion; he seems to be a nice, good guy, and I wish him well.

It's easy to pile onto Coach Hughes and say "numbers don't lie" or "with a record like that, they should have fired him a few years ago" and things like that. After all, in sports and sales, the numbers don't lie. But before Princeton alums pump their chests, say this is a great job, and say that they need someone who is a "winner", consider at least one fact that hurts the Tigers.

Princeton is the only school in the Ivies that doesn't accept transfer students.

And, if it did, like any other Ivy, it would not only accept athletes, but bassoonists, classicists, creative writers and fencers. Which means that you wouldn't see a pipeline of gridders coming through Old Nassau every year.

But, according to someone very familiar with Princeton football, the aggregate numbers aren't the issue. This person told me several years ago that one transfer -- even every other year -- could make a huge difference. Several years ago, the star Harvard running back transferred from Northwestern and the star Yale running back from Air Force. Yale's QB this year transferred from Nebraska, and over the years Penn's had transfers from Duke and North Carolina play quarterback. Presumably, these are upper echelon talents for the Ivies who can really make a difference.

Again, the number of transfers that Princeton takes for any activity -- zero.

So, imagine if you're another Ivy, and you have a need for a specific position. The Ivies have prestige, they recruit lots of kids, including some kids the Ivies reach for. Kids who the Ivies would be thrilled to get but who opt for scholarships elsewhere (as opposed to need-based financial aid) or better football opportunities. Those kids fall behind others on the depth chart, still want to play, and look to the schools that initially recruited them and then transfer. Or, they simply look to transfer. And any other Ivy with a need can match up its need(s) with who is available. So, if Cornell needs a defensive tackle and a kid from Stanford wants out, they can get him. If Dartmouth needs a running back and a kid from Duke is unhappy in Durham, presto, Dartmouth has a starting running back.

Now, one player doesn't a roster make, but one skill-position player who is a difference maker can help a good team be great or an average team contend in the Ivies. The transfer rule by no means excuses the overall record of the Princeton Tigers during Roger Hughes' tenure, but Princeton's decision not to admit transfers might put it at a competitive disadvantage in football. The hypothesis is more anecdotal than empirical right now, but stories abound in Ivy circles as to how transfers help Ivy football programs.

There's also some conjecture that Hughes didn't have as easy a time with the admissions office as other Ivy coaches do, but show me an Ivy coach, and I'll show you someone with a beef about the admissions office -- other schools let the prospects know more quickly that a recruit is likely to get in, the admissions office doesn't like football, the basketball team is the favorite and so forth. Again, anecdotal stuff.

At any rate, from afar the Hughes teams didn't perform as crisply on average as Al Bagnoli's Penn teams. Perhaps an occasional transfer might have helped, but Princeton A.D. Gary Walters now has the opportunity to hire a head football coach who can improve the won-loss record. Let's see what he can do.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

47-52, with an Ivy championship 3 years ago, isn't the worst record a coach could have.

At least a handful of his players have made it to the NFL.

A lot of coaches have performed worse.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, more than one Ivy football coach may complain about admissions--which is no answer to the specific situation at Princeton.

It has long been well known among Princeton football followers that the Princeton admissions office too often does not respond as quickly as other Ivies. When a player we want is squeezed by another Ivy offering a likely letter and we cannot commit to a likely letter, that is a problem. This issue is no secret. See p.163 of Playing the Game, for example.

12:17 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks to both of you. It seems that either your both supporters of Coach Hughes or critics of the way Princeton admits football players or both. Can a new coach succeed under the current relationship with the admissions office? That's the big question. It's not the worst record, the NFL doesn't really matter to the Princeton administration, and while many coaches have performed worse, perhaps not at Princeton in the other sports. AD Gary Walters doesn't let coaches with sub-.500 records stick around for too long.

Any idea as to which coaches the Tigers might be targeting?

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan Culbreath's non-football related medical problem, aplastic anemia, is unfortunately comingled with this situation.

Let's pray that the young man finds successful treatment for this somewhat rare problem.

In the Ivy League, for a team like Princeton this year, a 1000yd running back would have probably made the difference between 4-6 and 6-4, and left the Tigers more competitive with Ivy top tier teams Penn, Harvard, and Brown. This might have been enough to keep Coach Hughes at the helm.

Jordan Culbreath is certainly such a back.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son is currently being recruited by all Ivies. Coach Hughes was by far the most stand up and passionate man I have met in my life. Passionate about football - and passionate about Princeton. Too bad Princeton did not feel the same.

I met Gary Walters last weekend and I DO NOT have confidence in him bringing in a good coach as he struck me as a babbling fool. Time to continue looking at other schools....

2:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Princeton lost with their new coach 34-22.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son played football for Coach Hughes at Princeton. His favorite part about Princeton was playing football despite the fact that he never played a minute of a varsity game. He, and I, still believe that Coach Hughes is as fine an individual as you could ever hope to meet. We will always have high regard for him as a man and as a coach. My son was recruited by Harvard, Yale, Brown and Cornell but in the end was only truly impressed with Coach Hughes. If there are any recruits out there considering playing for Coach Hughes at Stetson, rest assured you will be treated fairly and honestly. In the wake of the Penn State scandal, what more could you ask for. BTW, the article does not mention that Roger Hughes inherited a program in disarray at Princeton and improved the record each year until the Ivy League Championship season.
As for Jordan Culbreath, he was definitely a game changer. Having him healthy and playing would likely have been good for 3 more wins per season. Who knows what might have been. Yes Mr. Gump, a box of chocolates indeed.
As for Jordan, we are so glad to hear of his recovery.

10:54 PM  

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