Harsh critics blamed former Tennessee offensive line coach Will Friend for Trey Smith’s drop in the NFL draft.
That was probably unfair. There is no convenient evidence that Friend is a world-class coach but Smith’s big-money loss was likely the result of cautious health evaluations instead of poor fundamentals and technique.
Friend received $800,000 annually, among the top line-coaching salaries in the country, to instruct and motivate Volunteers. That suggests Jeremy Pruitt thought Will was very good or the head coach pumped up the contract for old times’ sake. The two were roommates as student-athletes at Alabama.
Friend got a $260,000 raise to come from Colorado State to Tennessee in 2018. He took a $100,000 pay cut to escape Tennessee before the roof fell in. He landed at South Carolina, stayed 11 days and relocated to Auburn at the same $700,000 price.
What all that says is others think Friend is a valuable assistant. The price tag says there just aren’t enough good offensive line coaches to go around. Schools must pay a premium to be assured of football success.
What? You say staff investment does not guarantee victories? Well then, why is economic escalation flying toward outer space?
Glen Elarbee, said to be a very fine coach, skilled at teaching proper alignment and blocking skills with minimum holding penalties, received a 66 percent raise to move from the green grass of Central Florida to the different kind of green at Tennessee.
His annual salary is now $750,000. His contract lists assorted perks and bonus clauses.
Alabama, never to be outdone, will pay line coach Doug Marrone $755,000 plus really big fringes tied to national championships. That is a mere pittance compared to Georgia line coach Matt Luke’s compensation – $900,000 plus-plus.
I never thought money was the primary motivation for my first favorite line coach. Ray Trail, graduate assistant at Arkansas, rushed to Tennessee in mid-October 1965 as an emergency replacement after Charlie Rash died in the tragic train wreck.
As Sandy Trail recalls, Ray didn’t even ask what he would be paid. Doug Dickey needed help. Ray responded. Bob Woodruff, athletics director, graciously set the salary at $6,500.
Tennessee got a bargain. Correction: Change bargain to steal.
Trail was a great communicator. He was near enough the age of Bob Johnson, John Boynton, Bobby Gratz, Gerald Woods, Jim Lowe and Austin Denney and they could speak the same language.
Trail was a motivator. As a Razorback under Frank Broyles, Ray was a warrior and captain. At UT, he was tentative for a few days but did not undergo a personality transplant. Some great offensive linemen – including Chip Kell, Charles Rosenfelder and Mickey Marvin – made him look great.
Trail was a terrific storyteller.
“Buddy Bennett was an outstanding defensive backfield coach. Arkansas offered him a raise to come to Fayetteville.”
Trail went to Woodruff, said he had never before butted into athletics department business, but that the Vols were about to lose a really good coach over not much money.
“Coach Woodruff thought about what I had said and waited so long to answer that I thought he had forgotten the subject. He finally said, ‘Ray, assistant football coaches are a dime a dozen.’”
Good ones cost extra.
Trail was an excellent recruiter. He had a touch of zing or maybe it was pizzaz.
“I saw all those coaches in blue blazers and khaki Dockers and I decided to be different.”
He hit the small towns of the South like a cowboy straight out of the movies. His horse was a sporty orange Pontiac convertible, white top and white leather interior. His persona featured blue jeans, cowboy hat, cowboy boots, big belt buckle and a 75-cent cigar.
When Ray Trail came calling, almost everybody knew he had arrived. So it was in Huntsville when he recruited Condredge Holloway. So it was in Winchester when he was pursuing Phillip Fulmer.
Trail’s linemen were tough. The old coach remembers Boynton’s injury in an Ole Miss game in Memphis.
“John came up to me on the sideline and said his arm was hurt. I looked at it and it was bent the wrong way at the elbow. It was awful, so bad it was almost sickening.”
Trail called for Bill Youmans. The doctor said Boynton should go to the hospital for repairs. John asked why he couldn’t fix it right there. Too painful, said the doctor. Nobody could stand that.
“John said he’d see about that,” said Trail. “He invited the doctor to join him on the bench and rearrange his arm. Dr. Youmans didn’t think it was a good idea but went about his work.
“Sweat popped out on Boynton’s forehead but he didn’t say a word. When his arm looked almost normal again, he stood up and said to Dr. Youmans, ‘I reckon I’ll go back into the game. Are you going to wrap it up?’”
Times, linemen, line coaches and salaries have changed.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org