Maryland volleyball coach Adam Hughes’ office is still sparse. The walls are mostly bare, and his desk surface doesn’t yet contain an avalanche of stat sheets and coaching documents.
But while Hughes — who was hired Jan. 23 to take over the program following Steve Aird’s departure to Indiana — hasn’t had the chance to fully acclimate to his first-ever collegiate head coaching role, he’s familiar with College Park. He served as a Terps assistant for the past four years, earning respect from players as Aird’s right-hand man while the team evolved into an NCAA tournament bubble team.
So, Hughes doesn’t feel the need to convince anyone of his ability to lead Maryland, even after the transfers of four players, a decommitment from a 2019 top-50 recruit and the loss of Aird, the architect of Maryland’s rebuild. He decided not to flaunt the NCAA championship trophies he won as a director of volleyball operations with Penn State before joining the Terps’ staff in 2014, placing them discreetly on a shelf in his office between mouthwash and a coffee maker.
“It’s more important that the players know that I’m being truthful and being honest and not trying to be somebody that I’m not,” Hughes said. “Knowing that we’ve had the relationships we’ve had for the last four years really helps because I don’t have to come in here and prove something. They know who I am.”
When Aird vacated Maryland’s head coaching job for the same position at Indiana in late December, it caught players, recruits and fans by surprise.
But Hughes had a contingency plan. After serving as associate head coach under Aird last season and following him from Penn State in 2014 — where they learned under the guidance of Hall of Fame Nittany Lions coach Russ Rose — Hughes called the remainder of Aird’s staff and confirmed they, like him, wanted to remain at Maryland.
Hughes then reached out to players, emphasizing that while he might have a different persona than Aird, the staff’s continuity would make the transition easier. He received a positive reception.
“Cheers to 4 more years at the school of my dreams!!” middle blocker Katie Myers tweeted in response to Hughes’ hire.
“Ecstatic for all the loyal turtles who waited through this process. This man is going to do B1G things, because he’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met,” tweeted former middle blocker Hailey Murray, who was a senior last year.
Hughes took additional steps to make the transition down the hall to a new office and to a new chair on the sideline at Xfinity Pavilion less daunting. He called baseball coach Rob Vaughn for advice, knowing Vaughn had recently gone through a similar experience. Vaughn was the Terps’ associate head coach last year, gaining a promotion over the summer when former head coach John Szefc left for Virginia Tech.
What Vaughn revealed over the phone and through texts helped Hughes establish his own style as he attempts to stabilize a program coming off its best season in recent memory that lost several key players to graduations and transfers.
“[Vaughn] said he would be my agent,” Hughes said. “He kind of helped me through this whole process. … It was nice to have somebody who was in a similar position as I was, who had gone through something very similar, talk to me about how they went through the process, how they communicated with the current roster, how they reached out to some of the recruits they were after.”
Hughes charged assistant coach Kristin Carpenter and director of operations Kyle Thompson, along with himself, to keep in touch with sets of players and recruits to feel comfortable and prevent them from departing.
Still, former top-30 recruits Gia Milana and Samantha Drechsel announced their intentions to transfer, and class of 2019 recruit Mac Podraza announced she flipped her commitment from Maryland to Ohio State.
As a result, Hughes, the fifth head coach in team history, said his squad “will definitely be in the mix” for transfers.
He confirmed speculation that middle blocker Jada Gardner could be used as an outside hitter given her experience as an attacker during her club career. With No. 32-ranked recruit Rainelle Jones set to join a healthy Katie Myers in the middle, Gardner’s versatility will be an asset for the coach.
“I think it’s just reinstalling the confidence, that the mission hasn’t changed,” Hughes said. “No matter what transition you go through I think in college athletics, there’s going to be people that move on for various reasons. … I’m more concerned about the people who stayed and making sure that we take care of them.”
Maryland was ahead of schedule in the coaching staff’s mind during last year’s 18-14 campaign. The disappointment after watching ESPN’s selection show for the NCAA tournament in the back room of the Old Maryland Grill at The Hotel, where the Terps were the first team left out of the competition, quickly turned to motivation for next year.
Hughes doesn’t want to commit himself to reaching last year’s mark. With transfers and graduations, the Terps are at risk of a setback before their rebuild can advance further. But he acknowledged those doubts, which have seemingly engulfed the team over the past month, can be used as fuel.
“The group’s got a chip on their shoulder, for sure,” Hughes said. “Everyone knows what it felt like to be that close [to the NCAA tournament]. I think last year proved we can do those kinds of things. We can get to the tournament eventually. We’re not putting a timetable, but … that’s always been a marker of where we want to be.”