Reports: Will Friend to leave Colorado State for Tennessee job

In 2018, fans will notice a multitude of changes on Colorado State football, and not just from a player perspective.

Marty English, the team’s co-/defensive coordinator five of the last six years, will retire following the Rams New Mexico Bowl game, which takes place on Saturday, Dec. 16. The school made that announcement on Nov. 26, and some followers of the program rejoiced as the Rams defense has been deficient in many aspects over the last few years.

But, English may not be the only coach leaving.

According to multiple reports, Will Friend, the team’s offensive coordinator the last three years, is leaving for the University of Tennessee to join longtime friend Jeremy Pruitt who recently accepted the head coaching job for the Volunteers.

After reaching out to the school, they had no comment on Friend.

Update: Rams DB coach Terry Fair could be leaving for Tennessee, too. Fair was a cornerback at Tennessee, being drafted in 1998 by the Detroit Lions and played in the NFL through 2005. In 2013, he was a graduate assistant at Tennessee before joining Bobo in 2015.

Tennessee officially announced Pruitt as their next head coach on Thursday morning.

The Tennessee coaching search was a fiasco. The Volunteers went after Greg Schiano, Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren, David Cutcliffe, Chad Morris, Dan Mullen and more, but finally found their man in Pruitt, the former defensive coordinator of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Pruitt and Friend coached together at Georgia in 2014 before Mike Bobo and Friend left for Colorado State in 2015. But, Pruitt and Friend were friendly before 2014, as Feldman’s tweet explains, Will Friend helped bring Pruitt to Georgia. Now, it seems, the favor will be returned.

Friend was making $540,000 per year as the Rams offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, but some questioned why the Rams were paying their offensive coordinator so much money when he doesn’t call the plays. Bobo, instead, is the team’s offensive play-caller. Friend’s $540,000 per year was the most money paid to an assistant coach in the G5 and ranked as the 85th-most expensive assistant coach in all of FBS.

Losing Friend would mean freeing up a large chunk of money that Bobo could use for both coordinator positions, seemingly.

While he didn’t call plays, Friend’s importance can be seen in the number of offensive lineman who have performed well at Colorado State. Weston Richburg and Ty Sambrailo are two notable “Next Level Rams,” though neither played for Friend. Most recently, Fred Zerblis dominated in Fort Collins but didn’t get the call-up, while Jake Bennett, the longtime center, will take place in the East-West Shrine Game and showcase his talents to scouts on Jan. 20.

Zerblis was named first-team All-Mountain West in 2016, while Bennett earned that honor this year, and so did offensive guard Zack Golditch. The line is where Friend made his most noticeable contributions and they were regularly a well-rounded group in three years under Bobo and Co. The line allowed a mere 1.31 sacks per game in 2015, 1.0 per in 2016 and only 8 sacks, or 0.67 per game this season; that’s phenomenal blocking in the pass game. All of that protection led to a career year by quarterback Nick Stevens, allowing him to connect with Michael Gallup and other talented playmakers, and both were also named first-team All-Mountain West.

In the run game, Friend’s offensive line opened holes for a multi-back system the last three years, allowing Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews to be featured as each improved year after year. In 2017, Dawkins enjoyed a career year, rushing for 1,349 yards and eight touchdowns while Matthews was the goal line stud until he broke his collarbone in the loss to Wyoming.

Friend didn’t call the plays, but he was key to the team from a coaching standpoint. He was anything but the players’ friends, erupting into yelling at times during practice when his unit — the offensive line or offense in general — wasn’t performing up to the team’s standards. Bobo can be vocal, too, but Friend was like the “bad cop” to Bobo’s “good cop” at times.

What it all means is this is the most important offseason in Mike Bobo’s tenure. He now has to hire two new coordinators and has the room to add another, 10th, assistant as well. Will Bobo look to continue calling the plays or will he search for an offensive coordinator who will take over those responsibilities? A guess: Bobo will continue to call plays, but we’ll have to wait and see to know for sure.

The Rams have been remarkable on offense since Bobo’s hire, improving every year, and setting a school record with 501.0 yards per game, which was 10th-best in the FBS in 2017. Colorado State also averaged 33.8 points per game this season, which was 29th-best in FBS. So, with all that success and Bobo calling the plays, is seems unlikely he would pass that responsibility on.

For Bobo, who will enter his important fourth year with Colorado State, it will mean his third different defensive coordinator — Tyson Summers was the team’s DC in 2015 — and his second offensive coordinator during his tenure.

And with many of his recruits playing the last few years, and more of them being featured next year, all eyes will be on Bobo in 2018.

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