STARKVILLE, Miss. (MSU Athletics) — Tony Hughes, a veteran coach and heralded recruiter with three decades of experience in his home state of Mississippi, has been hired as an assistant football coach at Mississippi State, head coach Joe Moorhead announced on Wednesday morning.
“Very few coaches understand the landscape of football in the state of Mississippi better than Tony Hughes,” Moorhead said. “Tony has recruited some of the greatest players in Mississippi State history who have gone on to NFL success. He is an experienced SEC coach and has a genuine ability to connect with his players. More importantly, anyone who knows Tony, knows the type of gentleman and mentor he is. He possesses a track record of developing players into men and preparing them for life after football. We are thrilled to welcome Tony and his family back to Starkville.”
Hughes returns for his second stint in Starkville, where he spent seven seasons from 2009-15 with the Bulldogs coaching safeties and as recruiting coordinator. He also served as assistant head coach for three of those seasons beginning in the spring of 2013.
“I am extremely appreciative of Coach Moorhead for giving me the opportunity to work at Mississippi State again,” Hughes said. “Mississippi State means a lot to my family, and we are excited to be a part of a great football staff and a terrific athletic department. I can’t wait to get started.”
The longtime Mississippian recently spent the last two-plus seasons in Jackson, Mississippi, as head coach at Jackson State University.
Hughes has a reputation as being one of the top recruiters in college football on an annual basis. In 2015, 247Sports.com tabbed him as one of America’s top 10 recruiters after the Bulldogs hauled in one of the nation’s top 16 classes.
According to Rivals.com, the 22 National Letters of Intent MSU received on National Signing Day in 2015 made up the Bulldogs’ best class since 2003. MSU hauled in five of Mississippi’s top six players, including No. 1 (safety Jamal Peters of Bassfield) and No. 2 (linebacker Leo Lewis of Brookhaven). Fifteen of the Bulldogs’ signees hailed from the state of Mississippi.
A teacher and mentor to his student-athletes, Hughes has excelled at identifying players in the state of Mississippi that leave MSU as five-star NFL prospects.
During his seven seasons at MSU, Hughes recruited and helped tutor some of the program’s most storied players turned NFL stars including 2012 first-round draft pick defensive tackle Fletcher Cox – an eventual Super Bowl Champion and three-time Pro Bowl selection – as well as second-round draft selections defensive end Chris Jones and 2017 Pro Bowl defensive back Darius Slay, along with 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks and first-team All-American Benardrick McKinney. McKinney was once a two-star high school quarterback in Tunica, Mississippi, before being drafted by the Houston Texans in 2015. Hughes also recruited Gabe Jackson, one of the elite offensive linemen in MSU history from 2010-13 and now starting right guard for the Oakland Raiders.
With Hughes on the coaching staff, the Bulldogs had unprecedented success in 2014 when they claimed 10 regular-season wins for the first time in school history and reached their first Orange Bowl since 1941. It was a season of firsts for the program, which spent five consecutive weeks atop the polls and closed the year with its highest Associated Press poll finish since 1940 at No. 11.
State’s defense was dominant during the historic 2014 season, producing the top ranked red-zone defense and ninth-ranked scoring defense in the country. Following that season, two of Hughes’ safeties signed NFL free agent contracts, including his son, Jay who was a team captain.
In 2013, Hughes’ safeties unit helped the Bulldogs rank among the SEC’s top five in a number of categories, including fourth in total defense (349.3 yards per game) and fifth in passing defense (205.2 yards per game). MSU also held its final three opponents to just 11.3 points per game.
Hughes first joined the Bulldogs in 2009 after spending one season at Southern Miss, where he coached the secondary. Before that, he coached for three seasons at Ole Miss. Named one of the top 25 college football recruiters in the nation by Rivals.com in the spring of 2006, Hughes’ first two years were spent tutoring the defensive backs with his final season in Oxford spent working with the tight ends.
Prior to a two-season tenure at Louisiana Tech, Hughes spent the previous 10 years on the coaching staff at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi, where he served as the defensive coordinator for one year and the secondary coach during his first nine seasons. He coached eight players who later went on to the NFL, including former MSU standout Fred Smoot.
Before working at Hinds, Hughes’ first college stop as a full-time collegiate coach was a two-year stay at West Alabama, where he was the secondary coach in 1992 and 1993. Hughes coached for seven years in the Mississippi high school ranks, serving as the offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Hattiesburg High School from 1988-1991. Hughes also spent two seasons as the defensive secondary coach and boys track coach at South Natchez High School in 1986 and 1987. His first high school coaching job came at Philadelphia High School in 1985.
After serving in the United States Marine Corps from 1981-84 and receiving an honorable discharge, he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Southern Miss in 1984, working with the defensive backs.
Hughes, who played football and ran track at Forest High School (1974-76) and played defensive back at St. Paul’s College (1976-77), was a defensive back for Southern Miss in 1977 and 1978. He earned his bachelor of arts’ degree in sociology from there in 1980. He is an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, serving as a member of the Mississippi FCA State Board of Directors in 1999, president of the Mississippi FCA Coaches Council in 1998 and vice-president of the Mississippi FCA Coaches Council in 1997.
Hughes is married to the former Marion McCaleb of Meridian, Mississippi, and the couple has two sons, Jamison and Jay.
2018-present: Mississippi State (Assistant Coach)
2016-18: Jackson State (Head Coach)
2009-15: Mississippi State (Assistant Head Coach/Safeties/Recruiting Coordinator)
2008: Southern Miss (Secondary)
2007: Ole Miss (Tight Ends)
2005-06: Ole Miss (Defensive Backs)
2004: Louisiana Tech (Outside Linebackers)
2003: Louisiana Tech (Defensive Backs)
2002: Hinds Community College (Defensive Coordinator)
1994-2001: Hinds Community College (Secondary)
1992-93: West Alabama (Secondary)
1988-91: Hattiesburg High (Offensive Coordinator)
1986-87: South Natchez (Secondary)
1985: Philadelphia (Miss.) High School
Bowl Games as a Coach
2014: Orange Bowl (MSU)
2013: Liberty Bowl (MSU)
2013: Gator (MSU)
2011: Music City (MSU)
2011: Gator (MSU)
2008: New Orleans (Southern Miss)
Birthdate: May 22, 1959
Hometown: Forest, Miss.
Education: 1980 – Bachelor’s in Sociology from Southern Miss; 1985 – Certificate of Education in Social Studies from Southern Miss
Children: Jamison and Jay