Mac Engel

The fighter can rest — Robert Hughes is a Hall of Famer

Dunbar High School coach Robert Hughes talks to his team during a game on Dec. 9, 2003. Hughes retired as Dunbar coach in 2005.
Dunbar High School coach Robert Hughes talks to his team during a game on Dec. 9, 2003. Hughes retired as Dunbar coach in 2005. Special to the Star-Telegram

Robert Hughes repeatedly said with conviction he was not expecting the call, and if it never came that would be OK. Anyone who ever needed air to live always knew better.

The idea that he somehow he was not in the Basketball Hall of Fame had to bother the winningest coach in high school basketball history. Hughes wanted it because he knew he had earned it.

The Dunbar High School coach would routinely offer some peculiar theory, which he does not want made public, as to why he was not in the Hall. It was far-fetched, but maybe it made him feel better.

The idea that Hughes was not in was itself far-fetched. He won more games than any other on his level. Even TCU basketball coach Jamie Dixon spoke of trying to lobby on his behalf if this latest go-round in voting didn’t work out.

Dixon knew, as do countless others, that few have ever earned that call from the Hall of Fame any more than Coach Hughes. On Saturday morning the phone rang with the good news. Who knows? Maybe he actually answered his phone this time on the first ring.

“Surprised,” Hughes said. “Surprised because I had been bypassed a couple of times.”

Hughes said had he not been inducted he simply would have gone back to Stop Six and read the paper. God bless him for reading the paper, but don’t believe the rest.

Long after the deliberate tragedy of segregation formally ended, during which he coached at I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth, he still fought like a minimized outsider demanding respect, and seeking validation. Now he will be enshrined as one of the game’s most important contributors. There is no greater voucher.

Hughes could be a Hall of Fame pain-in-the-blank, but the man cared. He is as much of a Hall of Fame coach as Kansas’ Bill Self, who was also inducted in the class of ’17.

The Hall’s previous misses at Hughes’ induction are forgiven. The voters did what it should when it put him where he belongs among the most important people ever associated with the sport.

The announcement is not only a win for Hughes, his family, Dunbar High School and Stop Six, but for Fort Worth and anyone ever associated with the man from players to coaches to administrators to journalists.

The man left a mark on all: his school, his community and his city. When he is inducted into the Hall in Springfield, Mass., a tiny part of us will be there with him. This includes the referees with whom he fought so frequently, to the school administrators at Fort Worth Independent School District down to the University Interscholastic League officials in Austin.

Hughes finally received the necessary votes — 18 of 24 — for induction, which was announced before the Final Four game in Glendale, Ariz. Hughes will be formally inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during the weekend of Sept. 7-9.

It is a godsend that the induction is now rather than down the line. Hughes remains in good health, but he’s also 88. Better to do this right now while he can enjoy it than to delay this necessary induction another year.

The only sad element to Hughes’ induction is that his Sue is gone. Hughes’ longtime wife will not be there in person to celebrate something that she had a role in earning. She died in 2014.

Expect a long list of relatives, loved ones, former students and colleagues who will be in attendance with Hughes when he delivers what should be the best speech among the inductees. As those of us who are familiar with Hughes, he never lost his uncanny ability to make the most out of but a few words.

(My Hughes’ favorite: “You know what they say? The boys from Dunbar are as bad as yo’ momma.”)

Hughes always did more with less. He had no other choice. His teams seldom featured much height. He was not graced with a long list of Division I college basketball talent. Dunbar’s facilities ranged from basic to hard scrabble. Stop Six could be rather transient, so he could not assume the seventh-grader would be on his team in a few years.

Yet he insisted his teams would play up in classification when it could, most notably the annual Whataburger Tournament. Save for his ire and wit pointed at officiating, Hughes never offered an excuse after a loss.

By the end, after 47 years of coaching, he won more games than anyone ever has on the high school level.

Now, officially, the fighting outsider’s fight is over.

Robert Hughes is a Hall of Famer.

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

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Enshrinement Weekend: Thursday, Sept. 7, through Saturday, Sept. 9, Springfield, Mass. Tickets: Call the Ticket Office at (413) 231-5513 or visit

2017 class: Retired Fort Worth Dunbar coach Robert Hughes; former NBA star Tracy McGrady; Kansas coach Bill Self; former Chicago Bulls executive Jerry Krause; former Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo; Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw; former NCAA executive Tom Jernstedt; former Globetrotters player, owner and CEO Mannie Jackson; former Globetrotters player Zack Clayton; former European star Nikos Galis; former NBA and ABA star George McGinnis.

About Robert Hughes: High school record 1,333 wins (247 losses) in 47 seasons, five state titles (3 at Fort Worth Terrell, 2 at Fort Worth Dunbar). Retired in 2005. Coach of the McDonald’s All-America Game’s West team in 2001. NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year in 2003. Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. Texas Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

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