Maker of Champions
Bill Hughes coached his first senior Canadian rugby football team in 1919. Sincethen Hughescoached teams have won ten senior championships in twelve seasons — four Dominion titles, four Intercollegiate titles, and two Interprovincial.
AMONG the dominies of the gridiron Wilfrid Perry Hughes "Bill” Hughes to tens of thousands of football fans, and Huggsy to his personal friends is the indiarubber man. Most resilient of football mentors, the stocky grizzled, pertinacious chap who this season leads Hamilton Tigers in pursuit of their second successive double rugby championship, has. in twelve years of senior f(x>tlxtll coaching, twice found himself so far down in the dumps that he has vanished from tinautumnal landscape entirely. On each occasion he has climbed back from oblivion to achieve the uttermost heights. You just can't lx*at a guy like that.
Hughes is the newest of the Great Men of Canadian Football, a worthy successor to "Shag.” Mike Rodden, and other master minds who have gone before. Beyond the fact that he is determinedly left-handed, there is nothing unusual about Hughes’s appearance or temperament. The man is devastatingly thorough. His methods are not spectacular but they work.
Since the introduction of the forward pass there has been
a noticeable tendqgey on the port 04jhe grandstand experts to regard Canadiaff*footK-?!l as a so# of pallid imitation of *he American game. ( î e n 11 ernen" hold i ng this opinion are advised to steer clear of Wilfrid Perry Hughes. “Because,” says Bill, "we have adapted one solitary feature of American rugby to the Canadian game, does not mean that we have altered any of the fundamental principles of our own Canadian football. Surely last season proved that the forward l>ass. in Canadian football at any rate, is just one play in a series of plays. It is a spectacular play when successfully completed, although 1 believe that even when completed it is not necessarily a more efficient ground gainer than any one of the more important plays we have been using in Canadian football for years past. And don’t forget that when a forward pass is intercepted, or fails of completion for any other cause, it is likely to place a dangerous weajxin in the hands of one’s opfxjnents.
"1 believe in the forward pass because it brightens the game from the sjx'ctators' viewpoint: but it has to be the forward pass as adapted to the Canadian game. A broken-field play, advancing the ball through combination and skilful running, is in my opinion still the most effective
way to gain ground and hold it. It’s easier on the plavers too.”
“And what,” we asked Mr. Hughes, “do you consider the first qualification for a successful rugby coach?”
“A deep-seated love of the game,” he replied. “After that, the teaching instinct. The capacity to impart knowledge and to instill confidence. No coach can be successful unless the men he is handling have every faith in him as an individual and in his methods. Coaching is a positive expression of one personality—the coach’s—and the play of his team must reflect that personality. If it does not, he can hardly be considered a complete leader.”
HOW about training methods and tactics?”
“Every coach,” Bill said, “is looking for the touchdown play. Most fans believe sincerely that any coach, to be successful, must have a special method of his own. Personally, I do not believe such a play exists. If it did. every coach would master it in a single season and football would become nothing but an attempt to put this one play across. My own conception of the game is that the most successful attack lies in a cycle of plays, not in any single stratagem.
“I have always maintained that a sound defense should stop any one play, and I have built my teams’ attacks on the corollary that it is infinitely more difficult to stop a combination of plays. No one play or type of play will do the trick.
As to training methods, ’ he went on, “the beginning of all football success is in perfect physical condition for every player on the squad. I do not believe in the sort of football heroics you meet with from time to time in pretty fairy tales about the lad with the broken ankle who runs eighty yards for a touchdown. That may look all right in the story books, but in actual practice the player who is not physically fit is the weak spot in the team. All the other players know it and the entire team is let down.
“\\ hat s more, perfect physical fitness is an important factor in prevention of accidents. Nine times out of ten it is the player who is not physically fit who gets hurt.
For this reason I have always emphasized the importance of pre-season training. We start our squads with a series of special exercises designed to harden the muscles, especially the muscles used in football. Don t forget, we have no spring training in Canadian football. Our boys between December and September of the next year have played no football, but they have engaged in numerous other sports and occupations which bring into play muscles which they do not use to any extent in football. Because their football muscular co-ordidation must first of all be brought back to efficiency.
we consider this preliminary physical training course essential.
“At the same time, we put the boys over a series of mental hurdles. The idea here is to brighten up their minds and fit them for quick thinking in the touch-and-go emergencies which are bound to occur during the season. After perhaps a couple of weeks of combined chalk talks and physical training sessions we are ready to get out and handle a ball.
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“From then on the routine is similar in all training camps. Ball handling, ball carrying, receiving and throwing forward passes and don’t overlook the fact that in the execution of the forward pass the receiver is just as important as the man who tosses the ball—combination in ball handling, the fundamentals of interference. Finally the development of team play both on attack and defense and we are ready for our first pre-season exhibition game.
"My system is to go back at these basic football problems throughout the season in an effort to correct weaknesses as they develop. No football player is ever too old to learn. For that matter, 1 myself learn new tricks every season from the players I am coaching; and very often I am compelled in rnid-season to develop a new set of tactics to combat new plays sprung on us by clever opponents.
“As to strategy on the field, 1 study for a simple technique which insists on team effort both on attack and defense. Between twenty and twenty-five plays are all my teams need in any ordinary season. My method is to run off my plays in series. We must have a general purpose attack, combining bucking and running, kicking and passing, so directed as to hit every spot on the opponents’ line. Another series will include end running with lateral passing and forward passing - a complete jxissingrunning game. Then a series of plays based on kick formations are necessary. This series will combine kicking with passing
"These I believe to be the essential plays upon which our Canadian game is bast'd. Our game approximates in many rest « cts the American game, but there are a number of vitally important differences. A great deal of what is gtxxi football under the American code, would be verv bad football indeed on a Canadian gridiron, and 1 am still satisfied that the successful Canadian coach will always be a man who understands and appreciates the importance of this fact.”
Quick t hinking Wins
WE ASKED Bill Hughes what single factor he considered the most important in this business of winning football games. We had expected him to say, perhaj>s, a fast end runner or a dependable long-distance booter. Not so.
“Ability to grab an opportunity," Hughes replied without a moment’s hesitation. “Lack of this trick of quick thinking in vital moments has lost more football games than you could shake a stick at, supposing that you wanted to go around shaking sticks at football games. The breaks have a lot to do with winning any match, but there’s no good getting the breaks if
you cannot take full advantage of them.
“Complete co-ordination of the team as a whole is vital to football success. A club w'hich has no team work doesn’t deserve to win and, what’s more, it won’t win. Each individual man’s play should dovetail exactly with every other man’s. To the extent to which this complete co-ordination is lacking, the team will be weak both on attack and defense.
“My teams will always try to make it as tough as possible for the opposition to ad vanee the ball in a straight line. A basic defensive strategy is to force opponents to the side lines. The more an attack is pushed towrard the side lines, the more difficult it is for them to move toward the goal.
“When the fates strive against us and we are forced back within our twenty-five yard line, our determination then is to stop any further advance of the ball. My idea in a tough spot like that is to let them kick, but stop them advancing at all costs.
“I have said something of the necessity of a close personal contact between the coach and his players—-individuals each with different personalities and temperaments. I’d like to enlarge on that a little. 1 don’t mean that a coach should ever attempt to set himself up as the guardian of his players’ morals. A nagger or a snooper is beaten before he starts. The men will have no respect for such a leader and, lacking respect, they cannot have confidence in him. It is far better to appeal to the player’s personal sense of honor, to his loyalty to his team. Any man sufficiently intelligent to play senior football is sufficiently intelligent to understand that any excesses of living w ill harm himself more than they harm
anyone else. A few football players there are who seem to have the notion that every game, whether a victory or a defeat, calls for a big celebration. That is a mistake. Plenty of time to celebrate when the season is over and there is not another game to be played next Saturday.
“I want to go on record as saying that in this respect Tigers are exceptional in my experience, probably because Hamilton is an exceptional football town. It is the chief ambition of etfery athletic youngster in Hamilton some day to play football for the Tigers. Such hero worship entails heavy responsibility for the players, and they have, all of them, a great and abiding sense of responsibility, on the field and off. If you ask me, this sense of responsibility is in no small measure the reason for the continuing success of Tiger football teams throughout many years.”
Outside of Football
WHEN he is not busy teaching football teams to win championships Bill Hughes’ principal occupation is with a Montreal organization of business men, of which he is secretary-manager.
Wilfrid Perry Hughes was bom at Amprior, Ont., on December 17, 1888. His father was a Methodist minister, and his early years were a succession of changes of residence as the Methodist conference moved the 1 lughes ministry from one church to another Gananoque, Prescott, Perth, Ottawa, Morrisburg and Athens. At Athens High School he took his junior matriculation. As he paid his fees he turned away without waiting for a written receipt. His preceptor called him back. “You’d better
1919 Montreal. Won Interprovincial championship. No Dominion play-offs held. 1920. Montreal. Finished last. 1921. Did not coach. 1922. Montreal. Beaten in Interprovincial. Finished season with Queen’s, winning Intercollegiate and Dominion championships. 1923. Queen’s. Won Intercollegiate and Dominion championships. 1924. Queen's. Won Intercollegiate and Dominion championships.
1925. Queen’s. Won Intercollegiate championship. Lost to Ottawa in Dominion play-offs. 1926. Queen’s. Lost in play-offs, after three-cornered tie for Intercollegiate championship. 1927. Did not coach. 1928. Montreal. Finished second. 1929. Montreal. Finished second. 1930. Montreal. Finished second. 1931. Hamilton. Finished second. 1932. Hamilton. Won Interprovincial and Dominion championships.
wait and take your receipt, Wilfrid,” he advised, steeped in melancholy. “It’s probably all you’ll ever get for your money.”
Contradicting these and other similar predictions, Hughes went through McGill, studied theology at Wesleyan College, did ix)stgraduate w'ork at McGill and took on a law course just to fill in the time. He is a graduate B.A. and B.C.L. of McGill. His wife is also a McGill graduate.
During his student years Hughes supplied churches, taught school, tutored private pupils, and sold aluminum kitchenware. He has been a newspaper reporter, member of a chain gang on the C. P. R., mill boss and camp boss in New' Brunswick lumber camps, real estate operator, salesman of printing machinery, and customers’ man in a stockbroker's office, among other things. For a while he was secretary of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, and in 1919 organized the Canadian exhibits for the Lyons Fair.
Oddly enough, Hughes was not interested in rugby football until his college days were almost finished. He organized the first McGill Rooters’ Club in 1911. He turned out with McGill on Frank Shaughnessy’s 1912 team, but he graduated that year, and his career as an active football player ended almost as soon as it began.
While he was teaching at Westmount High School, he coached hockey and football teams, and in 1919 made his début as a senior rugby coach with the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association's team in the Interprovincial.
Hughes reached the pinnacle of his career in 1924, when for the third successive season the Queen's team, coached by Hughes, won both Intercollegiate and Dominion championships.. Queen’s won the Intercollegiate title again in 1925, but lost to Ottawa in the play-offs, and the following year when they failed to win anything. Hughes faded from the picture for the time being.
He did not coach in 1927, but he turned up as mentor of the reorganized Montreal Football Club in 1928. In three seasons with the Riddell-Potter combination he failed to finish better than second. When Mike Rodden decided that he would not again coach Tigers in 1931, Hughes’ status with Montreal was still in doubt, and when the Hamilton club came through wfith a dotted line he was prompt to sign.
That year Warren Stevens forwardpassed to Montreal to a double championship; but last season the story wras a different one. Tigers had found out what the forward pass was all about, and clawed their way through to another double.
Bill Hughes had fought his way back to the heights again. —The End