HAMPTON — For a man that has meant so much for a team and community, this wasn’t the way Al Hughes was supposed to go out.
He earned the right to leave solely on his own terms.
“This is not the end of my coaching career,” Hughes said Monday afternoon. “I still have coaching in my blood.”
Hughes spent the last 13 years raising the bar at Lovejoy, especially the last four seasons where the program has risen to elite status. This past season with two young quarterbacks, and a rebuilt defense with a new coordinator, Lovejoy rose to No. 2 in the state’s in highest classification.
The season ended against powerhouse Lowndes at Twelve Oaks Stadium. There was nothing that Hughes, his staff, players or the Lovejoy community should be ashamed of.
Hughes would often take to social media spreading the good fortunes of the Wildcats’ football program. He would remind his players to do it the “Wildcat way.”
But some feel a need for change.
They are defying the logic of the old adage: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
The Lovejoy Wildcat football program isn’t broken.
It might need some fine tuning, but the 2014 season looked as if it could be another big year.
The young quarterbacks are more seasoned. Williams has emerged as a five-star, national elite player — touted by some as the top player in the class of 2015. And the defense was going to get better.
But they will have to do it all without the iconic Clayton County sports figure that was Al Hughes.
He was the man that greeted you warmly anytime you attended a practice. From a media standpoint, you couldn’t ask for a better coach to work with.
He was accessible by returning your phone calls, emails or text messages. He made his players available for interviews and photo requests.
Hughes worked tirelessly to get his players the recognition they deserved with the scouting services, college coaches and media.
Not only did he do it for Lovejoy, but he was a good ambassador for the county. When you considered he was born and raised in Jonesboro, and lived in this county all his life, except his four years in college.
Hughes didn’t deserve this.
“I need to retire and get out of the way,” Hughes said during the brief interview.
No. He was the way for Lovejoy football. The next coach will have some huge shoes to fill on the sidelines and in the community.
There is no doubt that the Lovejoy program is positioned to continue its winning ways with good feeder programs. The JV program played for a championship and one of its feeder schools — Eddie White Academy — played for the middle school title.
Here’s hoping that the next coach is just as good with the Xs and Os, and managing people. But it’ll be hard for the next coach to be a better person, because Hughes was a true gentleman.
Derrick Mahone is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DerrickMahone_