NORMAN — Pete Hughes left his “dream job” at Boston College and took over Virginia Tech's baseball program in June 2006 because he wanted his wife and five children nearby, and the close-knit, collegiate atmosphere in Blacksburg made that much easier than the big city.
Hughes' all-consuming role as a baseball coach is trumped only by his family-man identity. The two intertwined over the years as Hughes' players became like extra family members, a cycle he expects to continue with his new job at Oklahoma.
Within two months of that first season at Virginia Tech — after the deadliest mass shooting in United States history shocked the Blacksburg campus — the baseball team became a symbol of normalcy and strength. That might not have been possible if not for Hughes, who kept his players together with regular meetings, meals and fellowship in his home.
“We've been so proud of the coach,” the mother of one baseball player told NBC News a few weeks later. “He took care of them.”
Hughes welcomed Virginia Tech's players into his home because that's what you do for family.
“That's what's so special about being a coach and a coach's family, is that you're part of the campus experience,” said his wife, Debby Hughes. “Our boys are like little brothers to all of his players.”
Pete Hughes grew up in the Boston suburbs, the son of a schoolteacher and a nurse who raised him to always put family first. That credo shaped the way Hughes lives as a father, husband, leader and baseball coach.
“He's a great family guy and would fit in anyplace,” said Barry Gallup, an early mentor who hired Hughes at Boston's Northeastern University in the early 1990s.
“The three best things about him are his leadership, people skills and that he's a family person. That's the way he coaches his baseball team.”
Gallup's claim to fame came in the early 1980s, when he was a Boston College football assistant and recruited Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie. But Gallup also made a tremendous impact on Hughes' career.
Football to baseball
Gallup became Northeastern's head football coach in 1991 and hired 23-year-old Pete Hughes as an assistant.
“I was gonna be a football coach all the way,” Hughes said. “That was it. That was the track I was on.”
When Gallup took Northeastern's athletic director job a couple years later and the baseball program needed help, he asked Hughes to join that staff in addition to his football duties.
“Peter was an outstanding football coach,” said Gallup, who has since returned to Boston College as its assistant athletic director for football operations.
“He probably could've been as successful a football coach as he was a baseball coach.”
On Gallup's gridiron staff, Hughes worked with several up-and-comers in the coaching profession. Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marone, Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Joe Gilbert and Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop all worked with Hughes on those early-1990s Northeastern staffs.
Hughes, though, decided a baseball coaching career was a better fit for his personality, and more in line with his career and family goals.