Will Friend has left the Tennessee football Volunteers for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Could it be a sign of the wheels coming off the Tennessee football program, or does it have more to do with personal connections? We’ll find out in the coming weeks, but for now, the Vols have a second staff vacancy to fill.
UT’s last original staff member from Jeremy Pruitt’s first team in 2018, offensive line coach Will Friend, has left to join Shane Beamer’s South Carolina Gamecocks staff, the school announced Sunday. Friend served as offensive coordinator under current USC offensive coordinator Mike Bobo when Bobo was head coach of the Colorado State Rams from 2015 to 2017.
Pruitt’s connection with Friend dates back to 1995 and 1996, when the two were teammates with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Then, in 2014, when Friend was the Georgia Bulldogs’ offensive line coach and Pruitt was the Dawgs’ defensive coordinator under UGA head coach Mark Richt. Both also coached at multiple high schools in Alabama before joining the college coaching ranks.
With Friend’s departure, Tennessee football has only two on-field staff members from 2018 still working under Pruitt, Chris Weinke and Brian Niedermeyer. However, both assistant coaches are in different roles now.
Weinke coached running backs in 2018 before moving to quarterbacks in 2019 to replace Tyson Helton, who was both the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2018 and left to take the head coaching job of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Jim Chaney replaced Helton as offensive coordinator.
David Johnson, the 2018 wide receivers coach for the Vols, then replaced Weinke as running backs coach. Tee Martin came on to replace Johnson and add on the role as passing game coordinator. However, Johnson then left to join Mike Norvell’s staff with the Florida State Seminoles this year, so Jay Graham replaced Johnson.
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Meanwhile, Niedermeyer coached tight ends until this year. However, he moved to inside linebackers coach to replace Kevin Sherrer, who had held that role since 2018 but is now an assistant with the New York Giants. Sherrer also served as defensive coordinator in 2018 before moving to special teams coordinator in 2019, replacing Charles Kelly in that role.
Replacing Niedermeyer at tight ends coach was Joe Osovet, who had worked in an off-field role for the Vols in 2018 and 2019. Derrick Ansley replaced Sherrer as defensive coordinator in 2019, and he replaced Terry Fair and Kelly, who coached cornerbacks and safeties in 2018, as well, serving in general as the secondary coach. Ansley still holds that role.
With Friend gone, UT has to replace both assistants who coach the trenches. Pruitt parted ways with defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh in the middle of this season. Brumbaugh was brought on to replace Tracy Rocker, who was another original staff member but left after the end of 2019.
Graham and Brumbaugh arrived as newcomers this past year along with Shelton Felton, who replaced Chris Rumph as outside linebackers coach. Rumph, like Sherrer, is now an assistant in the NFL. He is with the Houston Texans.
So what does Friend’s departure mean? Is that another bit of evidence when it comes to hitting the panic button? We’re not going to go that far yet. Friend was on the last year of his contract, and he has a personal connection with South Carolina’s staff.
If more assistants leave Tennessee football, that could become a concern. For now, though, while there are plenty of other reasons for Vol fans to panic, and while the turnover of assistants under Pruitt has been a bit alarming, this one in a vacuum is no reason to panic.