By Murray Evans, Associated Press
NORMAN, Okla. —
Pete Hughes knew what everyone was thinking: If you can’t beat them, join them.
Hughes, who spent the past seven years as Virginia Tech’s coach, made the move to Oklahoma — just a few weeks after the Sooners won an NCAA regional hosted by Virginia Tech, beating Hughes’ Hokies along the way.
“I’m excited to be a part of one of the most successful athletic departments in the country,” Hughes said. “I’m privileged to be the head coach for one of the most storied traditions in college baseball. Specifically, this year’s team, I know what I’m inheriting. I saw it with my own eyes.
I’m very appreciative of inheriting a super regional team. I realize you don’t walk into those situations very often.”
Hughes will replace Sunny Golloway, who left the Sooners earlier this month to take the head coaching job at Auburn. Golloway spent nine years as Oklahoma’s head coach and won 40 or more games each of the past five seasons. This year, Oklahoma went 43-21 and advanced to a super regional.
At Virginia Tech, Hughes took a program that hadn’t been to an NCAA tournament since 2000 and guided the Hokies to berths in 2010 and 2013. The Hokies won 30 or more games each of the past five years, going 40-22 and hosting an NCAA regional for the first time this year.
He coached at Boston College from 1999 to 2006. The Eagles won a school-record 37 games in 2005 and Hughes twice received Big East Conference coach of the year honors. He began his baseball coaching career at Trinity (Texas), spending two seasons at the lower-division university. His overall record is 524-385-2 in 17 seasons.
“Pete captured our attention for a variety of reasons,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “He has an extensive track record at building programs, especially programs that faced somewhat of an uphill battle, given the stage they were when he became the head coach. But they didn’t stay there. They got better and better and better and became competitive in the conference in which they competed. He’s no stranger to facing the best competition in collegiate baseball.”
Hughes said he suffered a heart attack two weeks ago but didn’t realize it at first, thinking instead he had indigestion.
“I thought I had something caught in my chest from dinner and it stayed for an extended period of time,” he said. “I drove myself to the hospital. I’d had a heart attack. I had 99 percent blockage in my main artery. The doctor said in front of my wife, ‘The widowmaker.’ We got past that.
“We got a stent put in. Where I was 99 percent blocked, I’m 100 percent wide open now. I feel great. I feel very fortunate. There’s no damage to my heart. I’m 45 years old and in pretty good shape, with bad genetic history. Now we can stay on top of it.”
Oklahoma has won a pair of national championships in baseball and went to the College World Series as recently as 2010 under Golloway. Hughes said he came to Oklahoma “to play for championships, go to Omaha on a regular basis and bring a national championship to Oklahoma baseball.
“I’ve always wanted to coach at a school where you were the institution in the region,” Hughes added. “With that, our recruiting efforts will follow. This is the state university, and it’s in one of the most fertile baseball grounds in the country: Oklahoma, bordering Texas. If we’re going outside of that, something’s wrong. It will be an inside-out philosophy. We will consume those areas. If we need to go out with our connections for a certain fit, that’s what we’ll do.”
He spoke of reaching out to Oklahoma alumni and supporters, some of whom didn’t care for Golloway despite the Sooners’ success and who publicly rejoiced when Golloway left for Auburn. Hughes said he wasn’t aware of factions surrounding the program, but that he wanted to include alumni who wanted to be a part of it.
Among those who attended Hughes’ introductory press conference were Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso and former Oklahoma baseball coach Larry Cochell. Gasso won her second national title this year and helped in the interview process with Hughes, and Cochell, who stepped down in 2005 after making a racially insensitive remark, said he doesn’t know Hughes, except by reputation.
“I know where he’s been and he’s been pretty successful in tough situations,” Cochell said. “It’s a lot easier to coach Oklahoma than Boston College.”
Oklahoma outfielder Craig Aikin said he was impressed with Hughes’ work at Virginia Tech, from what he saw when the teams played in the NCAA tournament.
“The team he put on the field was really impressive,” Aikin said. “He made those guys at Virginia Tech look like they were playing a game and they were having fun doing it.”