Things worked out just as Hughes hoped. In 1997, he was hired to lead the baseball program at Trinity University, an NCAA Division III school in San Antonio.
Turning around a program
After two successful seasons, he left to take over at Boston College. He inherited an Eagles squad with a long history of losing; Boston College won an average of just 13 games over the 35 seasons before Hughes arrived.
Over Hughes' eight-year run, though, Boston College went 250-181-2. The program could've been his forever, but as his five children grew up in a home 50 miles from campus, he realized working at a big-city university wasn't compatible with his family goals.
“The turning point was when we came to Virginia Tech and saw the neighborhoods that were practically walking and biking distance from campus,” said Debby Hughes. “That was everything to us. He could not only coach his team, but he could go to our boys' games after practice. Our boys could go to his practice on their bikes.”
But for as much as the Hughes family needed Virginia Tech, the Hokie players would come to rely on their new coach even more, and for a far graver reason than winning baseball games.
Team as family
Three months into his new job at Virginia Tech, the Hokies traveled to No. 1 Florida State for a mid-April weekend series, returning home early Monday morning, April 16.
Hughes was still in bed that morning when Seung-Hui Cho shot the first of his 32 victims in the horrifying massacre that shook the Virginia Tech campus — and the entire nation.
Virginia Tech shut down for a week after the tragedy, allowing most students to go home and be with their families.
“The whole community was turned upside down, but it was baseball season,” Debby Hughes said. “They sort of had to continue on playing, just feeling numb.”
So the Hughes family opened their home to the Hokie baseball players, who ate dinner there every night that week.
“Our home was like their home base,” Debby Hughes said. “Instead of sitting in their dorm rooms, just feeling awful, they could all come be together at our house and just feel some comfort.”
Virginia Tech didn't return to the game field until Friday, April 20, when it hosted Miami in the first post-shooting event on campus.
From those painful days through his seven seasons in Blacksburg, Hughes continued to foster close, familial relationships with his players, and it led to remarkable success on the field.
Virginia Tech recorded 30-win seasons in Hughes' last five years there and reached the postseason twice. This summer, he was hired to replace Sunny Golloway as head baseball coach at Oklahoma, a place he said was perfect for his family because of the community.
Hughes also likes that the Sooners don't need much rebuilding, unlike in his previous jobs.
“I am motivated to win a national championship, to get to the highest pinnacle of my profession,” Hughes said. “That's what spearheads everything, next to the welfare of my family. That's why I made this move.”