Whenever the pressure to lead the Storm to its first winning season since 2011 becomes too much, first-year coach Dan Hughes will slip on his Bose earpiece and listen to some of his extensive vinyl collection.

Share story

This day, like most days in Dan Hughes’ life, includes a musical exploration that comforts his soul, calms his mind and brings a smile to his face.

It is 1:30 p.m. and the first-year Storm coach squeezed a trip to Daybreak Records into a busy schedule that includes a morning practice and afternoon film session with coaches.

The 63-year-old rock ’n’ roll enthusiast and avid record collector arrived at the swank, old-school vinyl shop in Fremont wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and Buffalo Springfield baseball cap.

These outings that Hughes likes to call “treasure hunts” began in the late 1960s and early ’70s when he made frequent trips from small-town Lowell, Ohio, to a nearby record store in Marietta in search of the rock artists that dominated the airwaves.

Through the decades, Hughes’ musical palette has expanded to Christian music, classical, soundtracks and R&B, but his first love will always be rock ’n’ roll – a connection that’s strengthened as he’s gotten older.

Trips like this on a recent sunny afternoon provide a glimpse into his past as he searches for something new to add to the prized record collection he keeps at his mother’s San Antonio home.

“Even if I don’t buy anything, I’m totally entertained because I’ll look around and I’ll see things,” said Hughes, who brought about 100 to 200 records with him to Seattle. “Every one of those records takes me somewhere to a place or a time that was special.”

He became friends with members of the Chicago rock band Styx and said: “I got to see them play once or twice a year to make sure I’m living and breathing right.”

He’s golfed with the guys from Rush, a Canadian rock band.

He met Felix Cavaliere at a fundraiser in Cleveland and drove two hours to Toledo to see him perform with The Rascals.

He watched famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix perform at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, which is hailed as a revolutionary moment in rock ’n’ roll.

He recently met Justin Hayward and John Lodge, members of the English progressive rock band Moody Blues, at the airport.

And he had Richie Furay, the founding member of the 1960s band Buffalo Springfield, officiate and sing a song at his daughter’s wedding.

If he hadn’t gone into coaching, Hughes would have been a disc jockey like Alan Freed, the legendary DJ in Cleveland, who was idolized by Midwest kids.

“I have no musical talent, but man, I can talk about it for hours and hours and hours and I never tire of it,” Hughes said. “And you can play me the same song 2,000 times. If it’s good, it’s good.”

Hughes’ wife Mary teaches music and his daughter, Sara, plays the piano and cello, but he admits he can’t hold a note or keep time. Still, he dabbled in music as a teenager in the 1960s before focusing on sports.

“Four kids. They had talent. And I didn’t, but they needed somebody to play the bass guitar,” Hughes said. “I was 13. We played Beatles covers and the hits of the day.

“For about a year, we played together and I tried. I really tried, especially that last summer. But when basketball season came around, I made the best choice of my life. I stopped playing, but I never left music.”

Dan Hughes, tasked with taking the Storm to the next level, shows off two of his favorite records by The Beach Boys and The Beatles while wearing his Jimi Hendrix t-shirt at Daybreak Records in the Fremont neighborhood. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)
Dan Hughes, tasked with taking the Storm to the next level, shows off two of his favorite records by The Beach Boys and The Beatles while wearing his Jimi Hendrix t-shirt at Daybreak Records in the Fremont neighborhood. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

Hughes is a basketball lifer who played both basketball and baseball at Muskingum University in Ohio. He got his coaching start as an assistant for the Toledo Rockets, first with the men (1991-96) and then with the women’s team (1996-97). He was also an assistant for the men’s teams at Mount Union and Baldwin-Wallace.

Hughes made it to the WNBA in 1999 as an assistant with the Charlotte Sting before taking over at midseason and finishing 10-10.

The next year, Hughes landed with Cleveland and spent four seasons with the Rockers while making three postseason appearances.

But Hughes had his most success with San Antonio (2005-09 and 2011-16), where he led the Stars to the playoffs six times as the coach and general manager. He retired and was comfortable working as a TV analyst in 2017 before the Storm offered him a coaching job.

“I feel like the Good Lord has given me overtime and I’m going to enjoy it,” Hughes said. “We liked San Antonio. I’ve been a builder, but the injuries to the youth — I got really weary of that. The realities of doing a lot of different things started to weigh on me.

“I want to enjoy maybe the last section of my life coaching players because that’s an essence of why I do what I do. As much as I want to win a championship – and I do – I want to build a relationship with players and help them grow.”

After two first-round playoff exits, the Storm believes Hughes is the right person to take them to the next step, primarily because of his experience. He’s coached more games than anyone in WNBA history (524) while accumulating a 237-284 record, the third-most career wins.

This time around, Hughes will not have GM duties and is focusing entirely on coaching a talented Storm team led by Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird that finished 15-19 last year.

“When we got the call, it was we got to enjoy this ride as much as possible because he’s so passionate and so intense with coaching,” Mary Hughes said. “He loves the game so much and he wants the game to prosper and he wants everybody to be successful. It very much consumes him.”

And maybe that’s why Hughes took a trip to a record store to unwind and add to a collection that includes 3,000 or so albums.

“I don’t have a lot of hobbies,” Hughes said. “I don’t golf. This is the only hobby I’ve got. I’m kind of a boring guy aside from what I do. It truly can take my mind. I can tell when I’ve not listened to music. I get too narrow-minded.

“Music allows my mind to see more things and relax a little bit and be more creative. I see more of my peripheral vision of the world.”

There was a time when Hughes would scour record shows and stores for the mint-condition precious gems that cost a small fortune.

“Mary and I probably have no secrets, except how much money I spend at those things,” Hughes said, laughing. “I don’t always tell her. I’ve easily dropped $200 to $300. I don’t usually go over that, but for the right music there’s not a budget. And there’s not much you can say in my life that’s like that.

“But by the same token, I get just as fascinated by a 99-cent record because I’ve done the unique and special record things about as well as you’re going to do it. Now I love rediscovering acts.”

On this day, Hughes spends most of time flipping through the bargain bins. Every so often, he’ll stop to admire a record and tell a story.

“I have to have this one,” Hughes said, lifting an old album by Ray Thomas, a founding member of Moody Blues. “He just passed away last December. I didn’t even know he did a solo thing. And look at the condition of that. That’s phenomenal.”

Hughes has enough rock ‘n’ roll stories to last for days. There’s the time he hung out with singer Roger Daltry from The Who. Or the time in Toledo when he got tongue-tied around Jackson Browne.

“I get nervous around musicians,” Hughes admitted. “I don’t get nervous around athletes. He came out and kind of greeted us. He says what’s the name of the radio station in town, and I just couldn’t get it out. My wife had to say it because I was speechless.”

After an hour of shopping interspersed with nostalgic trips down memory lane, Hughes buys three albums and is eager to return to the office for more film study.

Whenever the pressure to lead the Storm to its first winning season since 2011 becomes too much, he’ll slip on his Bose earpiece and listen to music.

“Coaching and taking care of my family, those are essential parts of my day, but music is always a part of me centering myself, whether it’s in the morning when I get up to work out or at night when I come home or when I can’t sleep,” Hughes said. “I get too focused. I’m one of those people, unfortunately, where I can obsess and think about something 2,000 times.

“Music somehow allows me to move on. It’s way better than any substance I can put into my body.”