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'Nothing really out of the ordinary': Will Friend, Ike Hilliard chronicle smooth transitions to co-OCs

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Auburn v Penn State September 18, 2021

Auburn Tigers Offensive Line Coach Will Friend and Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) during the Auburn Tigers and Penn State University Nittany Lions game at Beaver Stadium in College Park Pennsylvania on Sept. 18, 2021.

In his first week as interim head coach, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams said he got maybe six hours of sleep in his first three days.

It was long nights and early mornings, Williams said, making the shifts needed with an interim coaching staff.

“Oh, we’ve been going home early,” Will Friend, who began this season as Auburn’s offensive line coach, said Monday, with a grin. “I don’t know what Cadillac is talking about.”

All jokes aside, Friend and receivers coach Ike Hilliard made perhaps the two biggest jumps on staff besides Williams when Bryan Harsin was fired on Oct. 31, becoming co-offensive coordinators and helming a unit that’s improved significantly the past few weeks.

“For our offensive coaches — Ike Hilliard, Will Friend, (running backs) Coach (Jeff) McDaniels, (quarterbacks) Coach (Mike) Hartline, (tight ends) Coach (Joe) Bernardi and our support staff that helps us on the offensive end — they have done an incredible job. Like you said: To take an offense that a lot of people aren’t familiar with, and you try to speak the same language because the kids learned this one way.

“And to still put these kids in a position to succeed, man, my hats go off to those guys. They’re heck of coaches, and I’m honored to be in the paint with those guys.”

Friend, who deemed himself “more like a substitute teacher” Monday, said the transition has been “nothing really out of the ordinary,” but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been without its challenges.

“The hardest part is you kind of got limited with your number of people,” Friend said. “Your support staff became coaches. When that happened, all of the sudden everyone is trying to do your job plus another role. That’s just part of it. The guys have worked well as a team.”

Hilliard, who’s taken responsibility in overseeing Auburn’s pass attack, echoed Friend, who’s handling the rushing offense.

“Other than communicating more from a play-calling standpoint,” Hilliard said. “My process has been the same since I’ve been fortunate enough to get into coaching and understanding the big picture of it all — probably Year 3 — so, I look at everything, I study everything. It’s just now working with Will specifically, run-pass game for certain, along with the rest of the guys that have eyes on things while we are performing.”

Since the duo has taken over, Auburn’s offense is averaging more points per game — up to 29 from 20.7 — while leaning on its standout running backs, Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter.

The shift in on-field success is result of something Williams has harped on, and Bigsby echoed Monday — getting the ball into the hands of Auburn’s best players.

Friend echoed that, too, and he said the ground game correlated with a shift in the team’s mindset.

“I think the whole thing, too, I think it fit with what we were trying to do,” Friend said. “We were either going to lay down and let this be our legacy here, that Auburn’s going to be horsecrap, or we’re going to get up and fight. I think everybody got up and decided to fight a little bit, and we’ve got one more week to fight.

“Sometimes you play a little more physical and do things a little better when you’ve decided to fight.”

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Auburn Athletics Writer

Adam has been covering Auburn athletics since March 2022. He graduated from the University of Missouri in May 2021 and has appeared in multiple publications, including the Kansas City Star and Omaha World-Herald, among others.

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