Mac Engel

Former Dunbar coach Robert Hughes should be in the Hall of Fame

Former Dunbar boys basketball coach Robert Hughes has been nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Former Dunbar boys basketball coach Robert Hughes has been nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

There are no less than a dozen theories as to why Robert Hughes has not received that phone call but he’s OK if his doesn’t ring.

It remains a needless sports crime that the former boys basketball coach at Fort Worth Dunbar has not been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but there is neither a pill nor a cure for stupid.

“If they open the door, that’s fine. If it doesn’t pan out, I won’t do any crying,” Hughes said in a phone interview on Wednesday morning. “As long as you are alive you’re having a great day.”

Amen, Coach.

For the third time, Hughes is among the 14 finalists up for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Advocates for any candidate always believe theirs is most deserving, but Hughes, 85, should not even be a debate. He is the winningest boys coach in high school history — if that doesn’t do it, what’s the point of having a Hall of Fame?

We won’t know if this will happen until April 3 in Phoenix when the class is announced before the NCAA men’s title game. A finalist needs 18 of 24 votes in a selection process so private the Hall doesn’t even announce the voters.

It’s one thing to burn the results of the voting process — which they actually do — and it’s another rung of paranoid self-importance to keep the identity of the actual voter private.

Hughes retired in 2005, three years shy of reaching a 50th season. If it was his preference, he never would have walked away.

“Oh, good Lord, yes I miss it,” he said. “I miss it because I’m a workaholic and I know that.”

No, he hasn’t much enjoyed retirement. The good Lord could not have created a person any worse for the verb retire.

“I really wanted to get to the 50th year but it was the 47th and that’s not that bad,” Hughes said. “I never had it so good in those 47 years in Fort Worth, despite some of the worst officiating I’ve seen in the world. I could easily have taken 10 state championships.”

The shot at the officiating is sincere; the claim about 10 state titles may be a bit much.

He spends a decent amount of his time watching the Cowboys or Mavericks. When neither of those is on, he remains a committed fan of Westerns.

“I’m always going with the guy trying to get out of Dodge,” he said.

Hughes is not too caught up in this Hall of Fame process, although clearly he would enjoy the recognition. He may be humble, but he is human. It’s always nice to receive an award.

It’s one thing to want it, and it’s quite another to earn it. Hughes did the latter, and it is not only pointless but also discouraging to deny him and his legion of supporters the opportunity for Hall of Fame recognition in Springfield, Mass.

“I’d imagine it’s something that maybe transpired with one of the Cowboys (Charles Haley),” Hughes said. “He was the only guy who had five Super Bowls but he had to wait 16 years to get into the Hall of Fame. That was something that should never have been. I kept thinking, ‘How the hell can they not let that guy in?’ Maybe he didn’t smile enough. He finally got in, and maybe I’m going through the same thing.”

Haley retired in 1999 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

The difference was Haley was 51 when he was finally inducted whereas Hughes is considerably older. If the Hall of Fame is going to do this, it should do it now so he can make the trip while he is still able and can enjoy a moment he deserves.

From the inhumane and degrading horrors of segregation to countless fights with his school district and the UIL, Hughes went through virtually everything a coach could face. He and a legion of others made it easier for this generation to coach.

I asked him if he thought racial relations and equality has improved.

“I probably shouldn’t say this but, no, I think we’ve regressed,” he said. “I don’t see that much progression.”

While some of his trouble could be self-inflicted, there was not a more staunch advocate for his school or his team.

The Hall has admitted Larry Brown, Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim despite the fact that their programs landed on NCAA probation for violations committed during their tenures. So whatever problems Hughes created cannot be held against him.

“One of the first things I learned was don’t talk yourself out of a job, but that’s not saying to be an Uncle Tom,” he said. “I had guys I worked with who knew I would not break and was not stupid.”

Despite his advancing years he retains his charm, barbed-wire wit and is an astute observer of people.

As a pragmatist, Hughes is not one to be overly emotional about much of anything. So don’t expect him to cry if the Hall doesn’t make that call, even though it should.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.