Getting to know DL coach Hank Hughes
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New Nebraska head coach Mike Riley's coaching staff is nearly complete - the receivers coach is the only spot left to fill - and the new hires met with the media for the first time this past Thursday. HuskerOnline.com spoke with all eight NU assistants and will be running the interviews to help fans get familiar with their new coaches.
Today we get to know defensive line coach Hank Hughes, who joins the Huskers after serving as co-defensive coordinator at Cincinnati last season and before that spending the previous 13 years on UConn's coaching staff. Hughes brings 36 years of coaching experience to NU's staff, including 27 seasons as a defensive line coach.
You've coached in a lot of different places at a lot of different levels. What was it that drew you to take this job at Nebraska?
"Well, I knew some of the people involved. I knew Mark Banker, Coach (Mike) Cavanaugh, Coach Riley. I had developed some relationships with these guys over the years. People are a huge portion of the decision, and relationships are a big part of the decision and who you're working with. So to me that was a very attractive thing. Then it was this being the University of Nebraska. If you're in this business, to me, you think about Nebraska, you work a lifetime to get to a place like Nebraska. You don't work a year, you don't work two years. You work a lifetime to get yourself in a position to gain an opportunity like the University of Nebraska. I felt like this was a good opportunity for myself, I thought it was a good opportunity for our family, and I felt very comfortable and very inspired with the opportunity to work with the people that are here."
Have you gotten a chance to evaluate the current defensive line you have coming back this season? What have been your early impressions of the group?
"I wouldn't say evaluate, but I've gotten a chance to get a feel for who these guys are a little bit in terms of who we have back, what positions, body types and that sort of thing. I've been reaching out to these guys, and I haven't gotten every one of them to this point, but I've been calling them and trying to touch base. I've have had a chance to talk with a number of them on the phone and set up appointments so when they get back we're going to sit down and get a chance to meet face to face, get to know them, pull out some game clips on each one of them and practice clips, whatever kind of clips we have. We'll watch some recruiting tapes as well so that I can get a feel a little bit about what their strengths are on the field as a football player. We're going to get to know each other and we're going to get acquainted one they get back on campus."
Defensive end is one of the biggest question marks on the team because of the notable lack of returning experience. What's your plan for that position, both with the returning players and on the recruiting front?
"We're going to go out and try and sign some players on the defensive line, but I feel like we have a good nucleus of guys coming back. Certainly the more good players you have the better you are, because this is not a game where 11 guys play defense. This is a game where a multitude of guys play throughout the course of a game and throughout the course of a season. So we certainly can never have enough good players, and I always tell guys that. If they're worried about playing time, I say I've never been on a team where we had too many good players. So I feel good about the guys we have coming back, certainly, and this happens every year at every program in the country. Good players that are at the end of their college career leave and move on. I used to say we need to put the franchise tag on some of those guys and pull them back for another year. But we can't do that."
On the other hand, you've got some pretty good players coming back at defensive tackle. What are your thoughts on guys like Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine?
"They're tremendous. I'm excited. I've seen these guys play on tape - not watching Nebraska, watching the offense they're going against - and these guys are doing some damage and disruptive. They're game wreckers. You get guys like that, it puts the offense behind the chains. Now our job is to get them to do it again and again."
What have been the core characteristics of the really good defensive lines you've coached during your career?
"I think disruptive. Guys that are disruptive guys. Guys that can create penetration and make plays in the backfield. Guys that are smart players, disruptive players that put the offense on their heels a little bit. They're the attackers and people have to account for that. On any defense, not just the ones I've coached, those are the things that make it difficult… I think No. 1, you've got to be able to stop the run. You've got to be able to be disruptive and rush the passer on pass downs. You've got to be relentless and you've got to do it over and over. You've got to be relentless and chase the ball. If you can do those things, it's demoralizing offensively when a d-line group just doesn't stop and you keep coming after them. That's been a mindset at Nebraska for many years, and I feel that's a mindset of playing great defense."
You've developed the reputation as a pretty successful recruiter over the years. Do you know what areas you'll target the most, and what are you philosophies when it comes to recruiting?
"I don't know exactly where I'm going to recruit yet. We still need to set down everything geographically, but we're reaching out to the recruits that we're involved with right now. To me, life is about relationships, and recruiting is no different. Life is about respecting people and treating people the way they want to be treated. You treat them with respect, and if you do that, you gain their trust and you gain their respect. To me, I want people to know you can trust me. You can take it to the bank. You never have to look over your shoulder. You can count on it."
You and new defensive coordinator Mark Banker go back a long way. How much he did factor in to you coming to Nebraska?
"I've followed Bank. We went to school together and I've known him since we were 17. I followed his coaching career from afar, and I've been impressed by the job they've done and the by the people they are. Coach Riley is the same way. I've always kind of followed them, and I think they've done a great job. I'm looking forward to the chance to get to work with them. That was one of the biggest factors for me coming here."
You and Banker played college ball together at Springfield College. You were a linebacker and he was a running back. How many times did you two collide during practice?
"Back then it was a lot more than it is nowadays, because there was I-formation. Eye-opener drills, when there was nobody there except the running back and the linebacker, and you'd just ram into each other. They've kind of done away with some of those drills or limited them. The concussion stuff kind of put a damper on that stuff."
Unfortunately you won't get the chance to coach Randy Gregory, who's heading off the NFL. I'm sure you would have enjoyed having him back for another season.
"Oh yeah. You wish you could clone those guys. That's something we have to work on in the performance lab. Start cloning some of these guys before they leave campus."
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