The Legend of Harry Hughes:
Sept. 8, 2011
By: John Hirn
It seems that just about every college or university across the nation has that one coach from the pre-WWII days who laid the groundwork for a sport or multiple sports. Notre Dame has Knute Rockne, Illinois has Bob Zuppke and Michigan has Fielding Yost. At Colorado State University our legendary pre-war coach has the stadium named in his honor, but the legend of Harry Hughes goes far beyond just the name on Hughes Stadium.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Harry Hughes’ arrival at the school that was then known as Colorado Agricultural College. From 1911 to 1953, Harry W. Hughes was the name and face of all athletics for the Colorado Aggies and it is no wonder why the stadium was named in his honor. His legend was not just in football, but all athletics and especially the amateur game.
Hughes came from the University of Oklahoma where he learned under their legendary pre-war coach, Bennie Owen. A 1908 graduate of OU, Hughes moved to Fort Collins in the fall of 1911 and immediately made an impact on athletics. He cleaned up the game by playing only college students that received good grades and not illegal pay from people in the town. Hughes then worked with college president Charles Lory and finally received approval for a new athletic field in October of 1911.
In his fist year on the job, Harry Hughes made it known that he was in charge of athletics by telling district attorney (and future Colorado Governor) George Carlson that he did not want anyone helping him coach the team. Carlson had a group of Fort Collins businessmen that in previous years had acted as “assistant coaches”, but Hughes wanted no part of that on his team. Hughes also told his players he was in charge and that they were not the assistant coaches, another practice that had gone on for several years at CAC. This stern, but fair attitude carried Hughes throughout his career at Colorado State.
Above all, Harry Hughes made it known throughout the state of Colorado that he believed in fair play and to follow the rules of the game to the tee. In one early game against the University of Denver, a school always known as fighters on the field, Harry Hughes’ team refused to punch back at the DU players. The writer of the Rocky Mountain News was amazed by this unheard-of practice that a football player would not fight back. Hughes’ teams found a way to win their games instead of fighting during them and other schools followed Hughes’ lead, changing how football was played in Colorado.
After his fifth year at CAC, the Aggies started to consistently win football games and track meets. Hughes, a track standout at OU, focused primarily on football and track while also filling in as basketball coach until 1925. Although he coached baseball for a few years, it was track and football Hughes enjoyed coaching.
Harry Hughes won his first football conference championships in 1915, 1916 and 1919. He won track conference championships in 1918 and 1919 and quickly became known throughout the Rocky Mountain Region as one of the premier young coaches.
It was the 1920s when Hughes became the leader in all collegiate athletics in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Not only did his football teams win conference championships in 1920, 1925 and 1927, but Hughes established himself as a maker of rules and coaching icon for the area. In 1920 he formed his own summer coaching clinic to teach high school coaches around the state the fundamentals of coaching all sports.
Also in 1920, Hughes became a charter member of the American Football Coaches Association where he later served on the board of directors. He believed in the amateur game and joined the AAU. Hughes detested professional football so much that he discouraged his players from playing in the new NFL. But it was in 1926 when Harry Hughes gave the Colorado Aggies, and his career, the most national presence ever before.
Hughes was invited to join the NCAA National Rules Committee in February of 1926. He was the first coach west of Nebraska to ever join this elite committee that only had a total of seven college football coaches that sat on the board at one time. His belief in fair play and the way he changed football in the Rocky Mountain region helped gain him the position on the highly visible and elite committee.
Each winter from 1926 to 1930, Hughes traveled to New York City where he and six other college football coaches designed and formed rules we see today in the game of football. He remained as a member of the committee until his retirement in 1953.
Also during Hughes’ greatest decade, he was able to secure funding for and construction of the gymnasium known today as the Glenn Morris Field House. Opened in 1926, this multi-purpose facility serviced nearly every sport on the CAC campus and also allowed for the creation of sports like swimming and gymnastics. Hughes was known to lobby for the funds alongside Dr. Lory and his input is why the building is still used in CSU athletics today.
Hughes continued to win conference championships in both track (1928, 1933 and 1935) and football (1933 and 1934) as the Great Depression hit the nation. Although many of the students were affected by the economic crisis, most were farm boys, Hughes managed to train his greatest track teams in the late 20s and early 30s. He produced All-American track stars like Dan Beattie (1929), Chester Cruikshank (1933, 1934 and 1935) and Forrest Harvey (1933 and 1935). In 1931, Ivan Dykeman won the national championship in the hammer throw along with an All-American award.
Harry Hughes’ greatest achievement in track and field was his coaching of legendary star Glenn Morris, winner of the 1936 Olympic Decathlon. Hughes took Morris under his wing both as a student and after his graduation to help him train for the 1936 Olympics. He even made Glenn Morris his assistant coach in football and track to allow him to train at the college gym. After Morris won the gold medal and was named the World’s Greatest Athlete, he had Hughes stand up as his best man in his December 1936 wedding.
Hughes’ legacy both locally and nationally earned him the nickname “Dean of American Football Coaches” in 1935. It was that year when Harry Hughes celebrated his 25th season at Colorado State and nationally no other coach had actively spent as many years at one school. Although other coaches had been at schools longer than 25 years prior to 1935, Hughes held the longest continuous service at one school at that time. He kept that nickname even after his retirement from active football coaching.
By 1941, Hughes had finished his 31st season of coaching football and there became a time for change. Following a meeting by the State Board of Agriculture, Hughes was re-assigned as the athletic director and continued to coach track and field until 1952. Hughes’ long-time protégé, Hans Wagner, took over as head coach of football and in the middle of a dismal 1946 season, Hughes acted as interim coach for the last four games after Wagner was forced to resign.
Harry Hughes coached football for 31 seasons and four games of the 1946 season, won eight conference championships in a 20-year period and produced numerous all-conference players. He continued his career as a track coach until shortly before his retirement.
Although from the very beginning of his career Hughes’s main job title was as athletic director, in 1942 his position became a more administrative role with the college. It was after WWII that Harry Hughes placed a permanent mark on the athletic facilities of the current campus. When Colorado A&M College asked its leaders to redesign the campus footprint, Harry Hughes laid out a plan to move all athletic facilities, including the football stadium and main gymnasium to the very west end of the campus along Shields Street.
Hughes’ plan to move these facilities eventually happened in 1966, with the practice fields and Moby Arena built in the place where Hughes had wanted the facilities to be re-located. In 2009, the newest facilities were opened on this part of the campus to form Hughes’ idea that athletics remain in one area of the campus. However, school officials and people in the community wanted the stadium to be moved away from the campus to relieve congestion on game days and as Dr. William E. Morgan stated, “Not have a football stadium that is only used six times a year on the campus.”
Harry Hughes remained in his role as athletic director until shortly before his 66th birthday. On July 1, 1953, Hughes retired from Colorado A&M College and began a new career working for the Centennial Race Track as a commissioner. While spending time at his brother-in-law’s home in Wheat Ridge, Hughes died of a massive heart attack on July 26, 1953, just three weeks after his retirement. He was buried with his first wife at Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins.
The Hughes legacy continued on years after his death when in the 1960s many of his former players lobbied for a new football stadium. Some of those former players were members of the State Board of Agriculture and some were business leaders. They worked to make the new stadium a reality and on September 28, 1968, Hughes Stadium was opened.
The legacy of Harry Hughes lives on in the stadium named in his honor. Ram Club fans meet before, during and after the games in the Harry Hughes Memorial room where a bronze plaque of him hangs around the names of many of his former players that made the construction of the stadium possible. If it had not been for the hard work and determination of Harry Hughes, there is no telling where athletics would have been at Colorado State University without him.
His personality was summed up by former college president Charles A. Lory at the November 7, 1952 banquet honoring his career. Lory stated, “Harry Hughes is the finest, noblest man that God ever made!”