Born Francis Vane, but better known as 'Checker', Hughes had been born in New South Wales before moving to Melbourne as a child. Recruited locally from Burnley, he played 14 games for Richmond before the war. Collingwood had missed his signature by a day. He returned in 1919 to play 63 more games to the end of 1923. During the conflict he won service medals for his courage in France and Belgium.
In 1927 Hughes returned to Victoria and became Richmond's coach, where the job had been left open by the Tigers' preferred choice being refused a clearance. He had an impressive coaching record of 87 wins from 120 games, but the Tigers couldn't get their hands on a premiership until their sixth straight finals series. The Tigers won the 1932 flag but Hughes sensationally quit Punt Road to join Melbourne the next year. Former Richmond secretary Percy Page had already made the move, and when he offered Hughes a role working in his business - an offer the Tigers couldn't match - Checker agreed to join. Melbourne's first attempt to gain a clearance was rejected before Richmond relented later in the month. The Tigers reappointed him but he said he wouldn't coach them again if he didn't get a clearance.
To walk out on the club he had played for and was a life member of after a premiership to take over a side who had finished 9th with a 4-14 record seemed a bizarre decision, but he sacked thirteen players and brought a new sense of discipline to the club. Hughes even gave the club their contemporary nickname when he implored his players to "play like Demons" in a fiery three-quarter time address. At first they were known as the 'Red Demons', before the name was shortened.
It took Hughes until 1939 to finally lift a premiership with the Demons, but his side dominated the next two years and won three in a row. After the 1941 Grand Final he retired from coaching but was asked back in 1945 to replaced Percy Beames who had resigned as coach. He initially said he wasn't interested in the game as he was suffering ill-health and failing eye-sight but soon changed his mind.
In 1948 the Demons won another premiership, this time after a replay with Essendon. Hughes then retired again to concentrate on his growing hotel business, and other than stints as Victorian state coach from 1949 to 1951 and again in 1953 he never coached on a full-time basis again - later becoming a familiar face on the Demon bench next to Norm Smith. It was the third time he had resigned from a coaching job after winning the premiership.
He served on the club committee from 1958 to 1961, and after stepping down as Chairman of Selectors for 1965, was asked out of retirement to be caretaker coach for the Round 13 match against North Melbourne after Norm Smith had been sensationally sacked during the week. When Smith took over as coach again a week later Hughes drifted back into retirement, having just set a record that still stands as the oldest man to coach a senior side at 71 years and 148 days.