JACKSON, Miss. (AP) Tony Hughes couldn't hide his excitement when asked about finally becoming a head coach after more than three decades as an assistant.
Jackson State's newest leader let out a huge yell that briefly stunned the on-campus crowd before it erupted with laughter and loud applause.
''I finally made it!'' Hughes said with his arms outstretched. ''Wow. It's been a journey. I'm excited, I'm excited, I'm excited and I'm looking forward to the challenge.''
Jackson State is excited that it might have found the right person to turn around its program after the rocky tenure of Harold Jackson, who was fired in October after lasting less than two seasons.
Hughes will be the program's fourth head coach in four seasons.
Jackson State athletic director Wheeler Brown said Hughes has a three-year deal. He did not say how much it was worth, but said it was comparable to Jackson's contract, which paid $260,000 per year.
The 56-year-old Hughes is a veteran assistant coach in Mississippi with a reputation as a very good recruiter. He's been at Mississippi State since 2009 where he served as the assistant head coach, safeties coach and recruiting coordinator.
''I know hard work, I know discipline and I know toughness,'' Hughes said. ''And I know that formula works for winning.''
Hughes, a Forest, Mississippi, native who was introduced on campus Monday morning, has also spent time as an assistant coach at Southern Mississippi, Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech. He said Jackson State has ''every reason to be good'' and plans on building the program around Mississippi high school talent.
''That's not lip service - that's who we're going to recruit,'' Hughes said. ''I believe that there are enough players in the state of Mississippi that if we recruit right and evaluate right, that there's enough players that every year we'll field a great football team.''
Hughes' bio certainly backs up his recruiting confidence. His coaching history is full of accolades from recruiting websites like Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247sports.com, which have consistently rated him among the country's elite recruiters.
This will be Hughes' first job at a historically black college and university (HBCU), but he said his brother and sister both went to Jackson State and he understands the tradition and pride at the program.
''I know about the great history and the great players and all of those things,'' Hughes said. ''So it's a lot like coming home. I'm familiar with the territory. I know it's a program that's had its problems the last couple years. Four coaches in four years - that's a difficult circumstance for anyone. But I like a challenge and I'm excited about it.''
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen sent out a statement through the school on Monday.
''Tony is fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a head coach, and I am very proud of him,'' Mullen said. ''He has been a loyal assistant and a tireless recruiter. He's done a tremendous job in helping elevate our program in our seven years here. Jackson State is not only getting an excellent head coach, but a great person and family man.''
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