June 27, 2014 10:59:49 AM
After decades of coaching, about 250 wins and multiple state championships, Chuck Friend says he wouldn't change a thing about his football coaching career since success comes each time he prepares a new class of young men for life's challenges.
The Mississippi Association of Coaches will induct Friend and four others into its hall of fame today at Jackson. The 2014 class is the 42nd annual induction and increases its members to 217 honorees.
Friend led programs at Columbus Lee, Caledonia, Starkville, Neshoba Central and Tuscaloosa Central (Alabama). At Neshoba Central, he led the school to five conference, three division and three Class 4A North State titles. Friend also found success at Starkville High School, where he won an additional three division and two North State titles. In 1994 and 1995, he won back-to-back state championships.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Friend graduated from West Point High School in 1996 and went on to earn a degree from Mississippi State University. He served in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Navy from 1970 to 1972.
Friend began his football coaching career as a Columbus Lee assistant in 1979 before he moved to a similar position at SHS a year later. His first head coaching job came two years later at Neshoba Central, where he won five straight Mid-Mississippi Conference titles from 1982-1986. The Rockets would go on to win three straight divisions titles from 1990-1992 and collected its North State championships in 1989, 1990 and 1992.
He returned to SHS in 1994 and served as head football coach and athletic director for seven years. There, he won division titles in 1994, 1995 and 2000, North State titles in 1994 and 1995. The program's back-to-back state championships came in 1994 and 1995.
"Sports are tools that can be part of education, and some use football to help earn scholarships and continue their education. I've been really and truly blessed to have good players and work with and for good people. Most of those kids have become productive people and good citizens. That's what makes you feel good as a coach," Friend said. "After they get through playing for you and learning these lessons, you hope that you, as their coach, had something to do with them growing up and carrying on as good people."
"The biggest thing about Chuck was his rapport with his players. He did so many special things for so many kids. It wasn't just about football with chuck," said Starkville School District Athletics Director Stan Miller.
Miller served as SHS principal during Friend's tenure.
Friend worked so much as a mentor and head football coach that he should have slept in the high school's field house to save time, Miller joked.
"Chuck did everything he could to better these kids, not just as athletes, but also people," Miller said. "It all starts back with a head football coach that acts like a father, keeps them off the streets, teaches them to do right in the classroom and community; that's the true mark of a real mentor. He's one of those gentlemen that truly represents the best of Mississippi's football community."
The 67-year-old Friend said he made the decision to retire from coaching this Christmas but nixed the decision after he realized he was not ready to walk away from the sport that continues to reward him as a person. Friend took a coaching job in Leake County, he said, so he could continue to work with and mentor youth.
"I know coaches who enjoyed coaching, but they didn't care about being around kids. I still enjoy it, and I don't feel like giving it up as long as I'm healthy," Friend said. "I'm absolutely honored to be inducted into the hall of fame, but I feel a bit guilty because there are a lot of good coaches out there in Mississippi who also deserve the honor. I wouldn't change anything, though, because I've enjoyed every minute of my career."
The 2014 MAC Hall of Fame class also includes Jack Case, a 36-year basketball coach who turned West Lincoln High School into a basketball powerhouse ; former Philadelphia, Warren Central, Gulfport High and Ole Miss womens basketball coach Donny Fuller; Mickey Linder, a junior high championship football and basketball coach at Tupelo Junior High; and acclaimed Warren Central High School basketball coach John White.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch