When Ole Miss Wide Receivers Coach Matt Lubick left the Rebel football staff for Arizona State, it began a mini-chain reaction that ended up with Tight Ends Coach Hugh Freeze moving out to coach the wide receivers and Safeties Coach Tony Hughes moving from offense to defense to handle the tight ends with new Graduate Assistant Brad Villavaso.
Even though Hughes has been on the defensive side of the ball his entire college coaching career, he does not see the transition as earth-shaking.
"I'm really excited about the move," said Hughes. "I look at moving to tight ends coach as a great opportunity. Working on the other side of the ball is definitely a challenge, but I feel comfortable with the change already.
"It's always exciting and refreshing to have new challenges in what you do."
While moving from one side of the ball to the other is a big change, it's not a totally foreign deal to veteran coaches, as Tony explains.
"When you coach on one side of the ball, you have to have a very good working knowledge of the other side of the ball," Hughes explained. "When you talk about schemes and techniques and stances and the minute details of a position, it's different, but fundamentally you know what the other side of the ball is trying to do to you in terms of their attack.
"If you know football, you know the basics - and some - on both sides of the ball. I'm learning a lot as we head into spring training about the intricacies of the position."
Hughes does not see himself adopting a different style of coaching from defense to offense.
"I believe all great coaches are great teachers. You have to be able to get a kid to perform at a high level on either side of the ball and you have to be able to deal with each kid as an individual as you deal with their different personalities," he continued. "Your job is to communicate with them and teach them, no matter what position you are coaching.
"I will do what I have always done - bond with the kids at tight end and do my best to get them to perform at the highest level they can."
Tony has a mixed bag of talent to work with - veterans and newcomers to the position.
Robert Lane and Robert Hough are rising seniors who are both vets of tight end play, but converted OT David Traxler, converted DL Cecil Frison and converted QB Billy Tapp are all brand new to TE.
"Our two seniors have played a lot of football in the Southeastern Conference. They are very experienced and that is a plus for any coach to have. They are fun to be around and appear to be ready to take it to another level," he added. "All of them are working hard, have a great attitude and they want to be the best.
"That is exciting to me because that's my challenge - to get them to be the best. It helps to have two veterans leading the way."
As for the newcomers to the position, the challenge is a crash course in playing tight end this spring and fine-tuning after that.
"Traxler is moving from OT, so he already knows the offense and the basics. He will be doing things at tight end he wasn't asked to do at tackle, obviously, but as far as the blocking scheme, it will be basically the same," Tony noted. "The pass routes, motions, etc, will be different for him, but he's excited about learning everything.
"Cecil is a young kid, but he's working on it hard and concentrating to do his best. He's got everything you look for in a tight end. It's our job to bring him along and develop him. Billy is transitioning from QB, but he's a good athlete with some size who I think can help the position."
Hughes is also excited about Villavaso assisting him and OL Coach Art Kehoe.
"It will be a tremendous value to have Coach Villavaso with me and Coach Kehoe. The tight ends work very closely with the OL and to have three veteran coaches working with the total OL, we will be able to get a lot done," he allowed. "Essentially, we will have three guys working with six or seven positions. That's a good ratio that is conducive to getting a lot done in that area."
Tony said he's been able to gain a solid working knowledge of the offense in staff meetings with Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner and the rest of the offensive staff.
"The biggest hurdle is learning the terminology of the offense. It's so important for all the coaches to be on the same page and to be able to communicate what's happening. Once you get the specific terminology down, it's all just football," Tony ended. "I'll be ready when spring rolls around."
Spring training begins March 2 and ends with the April 7 Grove Bowl.
Tony Hughes update
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