KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s offensive line is starting to look and sound a lot like the 1990s version of Alabama football.
The Crimson Tide weren’t as flashy, big or loaded with 5-star talent on offense during the championship era of Hall of Fame coach Gene Stallings as it is now.
But Stallings’ Alabama teams were tough and dedicated.
Four-year starting guard Will Friend was among the roughest and smartest up front from 1993 to 1996, helping to lead Alabama to three SEC title game appearances.
Some 22 years later, Friend is still raising the level of play along the offensive line, now serving as Tennessee’s offensive line coach.
Friend’s impact has been immediate, as he coached up the Vols offensive line this spring better than most anyone thought possible, to the extent it dominated the first-team defensive line in the spring game.
Leader then and now
“Will was the guy you talked to in the huddle if you weren’t sure what to do,” former Alabama tailback and NFL MVP Shaun Alexander said. “And he was a tough guy. Real tough.”
That’s how Paul Hogan remembers Friend, too.
“Will, he was a leader, and I remember one game our right tackle Bubba Ray couldn’t play because he was hurt,” said Hogan, a four-year starter at center for the Crimson Tide.
“So Will, you know he’s a real hairy guy, to honor Bubba he shaved Bubba’s number into his back hair.”
After allowing himself some time to laugh about the memory, Hogan reflected on the real value Friend brought to him and the offensive linemen.
“I learned a lot from Will, he would take me to watch film,” said Hogan, a redshirting freshman during Friend’s senior season. “They would bring wings over to where we lived in the dorms, along with a TV and video player, and on Thursday nights we would eat wings and watch film.”
Friend was a Parade All-America tight end in Philadelphia, Miss.
Like his good friend and former Alabama roommate Jeremy Pruitt, Friend played high school football for his father.
Tight end Will Friend
Clemson assistant head coach and tight ends and special teams assistant Danny Pearman said he’s proud of Friend, Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer, all of whom were teammates at Alabama when Pearman was coaching Alabama’s offensive line in the 1990s.
Pearman knows more about Friend than any of them, having helped recruit and coach him with the Tide.
“Jeff Rouzie and I recruited Will, he was an athletic kid, a tight end, and his dad Chuck was a high school coach,” Pearman said. “Will was a little undersized, but he was real athletic, and he had good feet.
“Our philosophy then was we signed kids that were big and athletic and tried to make them some offensive linemen, and we moved some kids over from defense to offense and made them into offensive linemen,” Pearman said. “We were looking for athletes, and it ended up serving us well under Coach Stallings.”
Remembering Jeremy Pruitt
Hogan didn’t know Pruitt as well as Friend — Pruitt played on defense as a safety.
But Hogan said remembered Pruitt because he was a roommate of Friend and former Tide quarterback Freddie Kitchens.
“Jeremy? Oh yeah, he was a solid guy, tough guy, didn’t take crap off anybody,” Hogan said. “Jeremy was kind of a ‘tell you what’s on his mind’ kind of guy, he didn’t hold anything back.”
Tennessee fans learned all about that after the Orange and White Game, when Pruitt shared his disappointment that the stands weren’t completely full.
Pruitt’s approach to be direct and blunt has worked well for him, just as Friend’s teaching techniques on the offensive line are proven.
Will Friend’s objective
“I think No. 1, you have to be team oriented, especially on the offensive line, you have to bring toughness to your football team,” Friend said in a recent UTsports.com video. “Obviously we want to bring some toughness to this program, so that’s the thing we stress.”
Friend joined the Vols’ staff after a three-year stint as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Colorado State. Before that, Friend was the offensive line coach for Mark Richt at Georgia from 2011-2014.
“We’ll compete every snap, every game, for four quarters,” Friend said, explaining the tone he plans to help set with the Vols. “My father was a coach, and a lot of men I grew up around and respected were coaches. I want to do the same thing for young players.”