Tony Hughes and his JSU players during traditional post-game alma mater.

Do the names Peria Jerry, John Jerry, Jerrell Powe, Shay Hodge, Cordera Eason, Deandre Brown, Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay, Jamal Peters, Leo Lewis and Jeffery Simmons mean anything to you?

They should.

All were outstanding college football players – mostly at Ole Miss and Mississippi State – and Brown was the only five-star recruit in Southern Miss history.

What do they all have in common?

Rick Cleveland

All were recruited to their prospective schools by Tony Hughes, who on Oct. 28 was fired as head coach at Jackson State in his third season there.

Asked Friday morning his future plans, Hughes responded, “I want to coach again. I plan to coach again if somebody will have me.”

I have to admit, that last part – “if somebody will have me” – made me chuckle.

Bank on this: Somebody will hire Hughes, sooner rather than later. One glance at that recruiting track record, and they would be crazy not to hire him.

There may have been better recruiters in Mississippi football history. Certainly the great Tom Swayze from the glory days of Ole Miss football would be in any recruiting conversation. So would the great Bruiser Kinard and Bob Tyler. But Hughes has to be in the first sentence of any such discussion.

Oh yeah, Hughes will coach again. You better believe he will coach again.

“I’m not ready to go behind a desk,” Hughes said. “I want to coach on the field and I want to recruit. I enjoy going into homes and making relationships. It’s not for everybody but it’s something I enjoy. Always have. I still feel like I have something left to give.”

Hughes says he was offered assistant coaching jobs at two Power Five schools last season. Sources have told me that both Ole Miss and State made overtures. Hughes turned all offers and interest down.

Tony Hughes encourages from sidelines.

“I wanted to finish the job I took at Jackson State,” he says. “I thought we were close. I still think they’re close. You only get so many chances to be a head coach. That was mine. I knew the risks that were involved in it when I took it.”

What happened at JSU? Surely there are many sides to that story, and, to be honest, I wondered if it was a good fit when Hughes took the job three years ago.

Here’s Hughes’ side of what happened, shortened considerably. He inherited a mess at Jackson State, a depleted roster and seriously waning fan support. He wanted to build it back with Mississippi players, especially Jackson area players. That’s what he has tried to do and what he believes he was in the process of doing.

“I’ll never see the fruits of that labor,” he says, and in the next sentence he says he is proud that his good friend, John Hendrick, has taken over the job and has a chance to win the SWAC East Saturday at Alcorn. Hughes hired Hendrick as his defensive coordinator in 2017.

“John’s a good man, a really fine coach,” Hughes says. “He’s did a good job for me. He’s doing a good job now. I really believe they can pull it off.”

Meanwhile, Hughes’ eyes are naturally on his future. He will be paid by Jackson State through December. Then, he’s a free agent. My prediction: He won’t be a free agent long.

“You never know what’s going to come open in this business,” Hughes says. “We’ll just see what happens.”

The early national signing date for football is Dec. 19.

“This is really the most critical time of the year for any college football program,” Hughes says, and, yes, he says it almost wistfully, as if he badly misses being part of the process.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.