Meet BYU’s latest version of legendary O-line coach Roger French
Darrell Funk expects to build on successes of 2020’s 11-1 season along the offensive line. And here’s how he intends to do it
He’s smart, savvy, teaches great technique, has an eye for detail and players love him. That’s the short of it.
What does Funk expect to get done as the replacement for Eric Mateos and Jeff Grimes, who are now at Baylor?
Well, it isn’t rocket science.
It’s the kind of stuff French would do in the 1980s and ’90s.
No shortcuts, no messing around, and playing time is an earned commodity through effort, discipline and execution.
“The first thing I would do, and I’ve said it to the kids and the media, is to pick up where BYU left off last year because they raised the bar very high. They did a lot of great things and I’m going to take that and run with it,” said Funk.
“I’m going to continue that, it’s always been an emphasis with every team. I will say that we can do that here. They did it before last year. They had good players leave and have good players back. Everything they did last year, they can do this year.”
“He’s awesome, absolutely awesome,” said right tackle Harris LaChance. “He’s exactly what we need for this group of good, experienced guys. He wants to build on top of what we’ve done and he’s exactly the right guy to do that in my opinion.
“The first thing I would do, and I’ve said it to the kids and the media, is to pick up where BYU left off last year because they raised the bar very high. They did a lot of great things and I’m going to take that and run with it.” — BYU offensive line coach Darrell Funk
“He wants to get our technique a little bit better and get our football IQ higher. He gets us pumped up, shows us a lot of love, and trusts us. I feel that and it’s awesome.”
Funk begins his first season wearing a Cougars hat after decades of playing and coaching against BYU at Colorado State, some of it with legendary coach Sonny Lubick. He remembers studying film and preparing for BYU, really getting up for the perennial WAC champion. “I am very familiar with what BYU is all about and what they’ve done,” Funk has said.
A veteran of 33 years in the coaching profession, 10 of it as a coordinator, Funk has coached at Michigan, Purdue, San Diego State, Colorado State, Ball State and most recently was the line coach at UTSA.
He’s coached winners and losers, conference champions and NFL players. Like French, he’s a seasoned professional — just what Kalani Sitake needed on his staff that already sports former offensive coordinators Fesi Sitake, Steve Clark and Aaron Roderick.
Funk says he expects BYU’s offensive line to play aggressively and be physical despite losing three players to the NFL, including All-American right tackle Brady Christensen.
Funk said one of his big coaching philosophies is to weigh, calculate and foster effort.
“We will work on all the basic things, but a key is effort,” he said. “Effort is a choice. You choose to put in the effort. As a coach, you want to make every player choose to hustle on every play.”
Funk has reviewed how BYU’s offense has evolved, not only in the past 20 years but within the past few years, including last year with Roderick’s voice becoming more and more a part of the evolution.
“I think they simplified and eliminated things that were not productive, doing things just to do them. It’s been about honing in on the things the players can do very well. It’s almost down to efficiency and when you have that, it’s a lot easier for you to not ask kids to do things they can’t do even though you could spend time doing them better.
“You don’t need 10 or 12 different run plays when you can get by with five or six and really branch off of those with play-action and other things.”
Asked what he’s known for, Funk said it is simply getting players to play hard. And developing talent.
“I’ve worked hard at turning over every stone in the offseason, working with strength coaches, trying to find ways to develop kids, finding ways to make them better. Sometimes it’s tough, sometimes it’s getting rid of a certain scheme or whatever that’s messing them up, sometimes it’s perfecting or learning a new technique. It’s taking any small thing that would make them better and helping with that.”
Funk credits his playing and coaching career to his high school coach at Rocky Mountain High in Fort Collins, Colorado, a guy named Pat O’Donnell, and his high school position coach at the time.
“They got me thinking I wasn’t a basketball player who can square up, post up and rebound at 6-foot-5, but I was a football player. They got me started in this game and it went on from there.”
Then Dave Lay, the former offensive coordinator at CSU and San Diego State, built a foundation for him. He is indebted to Lubick, who took CSU from a mediocre program to a winning program and conference contender.
“Sonny was much like LaVell Edwards was here to players and coaches. He took people under his wing and brought them along and taught them a love for the game and for players. I owe Sonny.”
“I feel like we’re building on what we’ve had and there won’t be any dropoff,” said LaChance. “This offense is going to be awesome. We believe in our guys and our standard is only going to get higher with all of us who have played beside each other.”
Funk likes his tackles Blake Freeland (6-foot-8, 305 pounds) and LaChance (6-8, 310) on the edges. Brayden Keim (6-8, 300) is an up-and-coming talent whose father played in the NFL and Funk predicts will be very good. It’s a given that James Empey (6-4, 303) and Joe Tukuafu (6-4, 3-5) have nailed down the center position. “I’m really fired up about those guys,” said Funk.
“Connor Pay (6-5, 300) came in and replaced some guys last year and got valuable playing time. So we have six or seven guys who have had meaningful starts. Campbell Barrington (6-6, 285) has the same fight and work ethic as his brother Clark (6-6, 305), who is a starter. Down the road he could develop and I’m looking forward to seeing that. We will go with those guys and see who becomes our seventh, eighth and ninth guys.”
Funk said it is hard to lose three guys to the NFL but it is good to have quality players returning. “Kalani has recruited depth here and has moved some guys over from defense who are older athletes. Now, it is our job to do development and bring on those other guys faster. They are guys I know I can mix and match. We need some depth but I am excited to get this going.”