WARRENSBURG — Perhaps his Twitter handle says it best.
A quick search of Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Jerry Hughes on the social media platform brings up his profile, listed as @HeadMule.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, Hughes died after a brief illness. Social media posts in Hughes’ honor following the University’s announcement Monday, Jan. 23 emphasized why he can be described as the Head Mule, and much more.
“Coach Hughes was a man of honor and integrity,” Central Missouri football coach Josh Lamberson tweeted. “His leadership to UCM athletics has inspired all who had the privilege to work for him. He was fiercely loyal, competitive, tough and always willing to fight for UCM.”
Fighting for the university describes Hughes best. For over 40 years, Hughes dedicated his life to bettering the experience for coaches, student-athletes and fans alike.
His impact went much further than the city limits of Johnson County. When he wasn’t working to elevate UCM Athletics individually, he attacked the goal of improving at both an MIAA and NCAA Division II level.
Hughes’ accomplishments left an influence on many.
“He was a great mentor and sounding board for me and many other ADs,” Northwest Missouri State Director of Athletics Andy Peterson tweeted. “What he has done for UCM, the MIAA and NCAA DII Athletics will long live on. There is no doubt he left all three better than he found them. Godspeed, friend.”
Peterson was among the many representatives from around the MIAA to join the University of Central Missouri in mourning the loss of Hughes.
Many echoed the same sentiment of those who interacted with Hughes on a daily basis for even a small portion of time.
“Jerry was bigger than life in the MIAA and D2 Athletics,” Emporia State Associate Athletic Director of Media Relations Don Weast tweeted. “I was only at UCM for one year but he was great to me and my family during the year and in the 24 years since then. RIP to the Godfather of the MIAA.”
News of Hughes’ death first floated around social media Sunday. Late that evening, former Mules baseball head coach Darin Hendrickson, now the head coach at St. Louis University, became the first to honor Hughes.
Many former UCM coaches, including several assistants, joined the trend Monday morning.
“Hired me, mentored me, encouraged me and always asked what do we need to win big,” Hendrickson posted. “No one in your corner more. Stopped by my office daily to look at lineups and have a coffee. What a winner. Most underrated AD ever 40 years at the helm.”
Former UCM associate athletic director for external operations Sean Jones, now the director of athletics at Henderson State, echoed the mentorship as well.
“Personally, he was my mentor and friend,” Jones tweeted. “We had so much fun traveling all over the country to support the Mules and Jennies. My best friends are people he brought together. Some of the best and most memorable times in my life are with and because of Jerry. I know many who feel the same way. What a life, what a career.”
Hughes’ tenure as UCM’s Director of Athletics reached 40 years on Jan. 20. His impact touched many beyond the interwebs, signifying why he can be tabbed as the Head Mule.
“Coach was the face of the Mules,” former UCM offensive coordinator and current Tulane wide receivers coach John McMenamin tweeted. "His leadership and passion were unmatched. The impact he had on athletics was nationwide. Truly one of the best. Thanks for everything coach.”
Joe Andrews can be reached at 660-747-8123
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