Freund prepared for his first year as UND offensive coordinator
GRAND FORKS — When Danny Freund walked into his basement as a child, he’d often see his father, Bob, riding the family’s exercise bike in front of the television.
Bob would be watching VHS recordings of the most recent college football games. Every Saturday, he taped as many as possible to watch back later.
Bob wasn’t just watching for enjoyment. As the longtime championship-winning head football coach at Kenosha (Wis.) St. Joseph’s, he was looking for ideas that he could implement with his high school team.
When he saw a play that piqued his interest, he’d run into his office and write it down. He might use it the next week.
“It’s funny because a lot of those plays he ran in high school — that was my first influence in football — there’s some influence in some of the stuff we’re running out here today,” Freund said after Saturday morning’s practice at Memorial Stadium. “As you grow up, you take bits and pieces and kind of say, ‘Hey, if I’m ever in charge of running an offense or calling plays, I’d like to do that.'”
That time has come for Freund.
He is in charge of calling the plays now.
The 33-year-old former University of North Dakota quarterback was named offensive coordinator this offseason, replacing Paul Rudolph, whose unit struggled during a 6-5 season a year ago.
While Freund admits there’s always some learning on the job, this is one he’s prepared for since childhood.
He was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while his father was a Western Michigan University grad assistant coach under Jack Harbaugh (the other graduate assistant was John Harbaugh, now the head coach of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens). He was raised in Wisconsin, watching his father use every possible resource — including those old VHS tapes — to learn new coaching ideas and construct new plays.
Freund’s annual spring vacation was to the University of Michigan, where he’d watch spring practices. Bob was friends with some members of the Wolverines coaching staff. Freund routinely rode over to Madison with his dad to take in University of Wisconsin practices. And when Bob attended coaching clinics, Danny was there by his side.
“You just kind of tag along, and you learn football and it kind of becomes who you are,” Freund said. “When I grew up, people would ask: ‘What do you want to do?’ Well, coaching is pretty much the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Some things have never changed for Freund, including that burning desire to coach.
Upon graduating from UND, he landed a good job as a financial analyst in Kenosha. But within a year, he knew he couldn’t work a 9-to-5 desk job and resigned to get into coaching full-time.
His enthusiasm has never changed either, not even as he has transitioned from UND’s wide receivers coach to the offensive coordinator this fall. It would surprise no one at UND to learn that when his father’s team played for a state championship, a 7-year-old Freund, working as a ball boy, sprinted all the way down the field to celebrate with the players after a touchdown. The coaches yelled at Danny to get off the field, but it was hopeless.
Like his father, Freund’s eagerness to pick up new ideas and constantly learn and innovate has never stopped either. Instead of doing it on VHS tapes, Freund does it on DVR and Twitter.
“You’re constantly looking and watching games and figuring out, ‘Hey, how can we incorporate that into our offense?’ Or, ‘How can we make that work within our system without trying to add too much?'” Freund said. “You always want to have base plays. But if you can find a way to implement something in a way your guys can understand, I think you’re always looking for stuff. The game is always changing. Football is always changing. If you don’t keep up with it and don’t adapt, then it becomes harder.”
Freund doesn’t view his offensive philosophies as being derived from one person or team, rather a collection of knowledge he’s learned over the years.
Some of the changes will be easy to spot
Through the first two fall practices, it appears that the offense is going to be more up-tempo. There won’t be as much coming to the line, waiting for the calls to come in, and forcing offensive linemen to be in their stances for an extended period of time.
As a quarterback, Freund also knows the perils of taking hits and negative plays that put offenses in long-yardage situations, so his offense will emphasize the quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly.
UND is still going to run the ball, but Freund said there are creative ways to do that.
Like most offensive coordinators, Freund is going to put a premium on getting the ball to skill players as much as possible.
“I’m a big believer and maximizing all of the skill players on offense,” Freund said. “I think getting the ball to your best players is something that’s important to me.”
And he also wants his team to enjoy what they’re doing.
“I think you’ve got to have fun,” Freund said. “That’s a big thing for me. You’ve got to have fun and find ways to make the offense exciting and still attack defenses but make it a little unconventional. You know, you watch what Mike Leach has done at Texas Tech and Washington State, where they have fewer resources and they’re still beating bigger teams. I think finding different ways to be different, yet keeping it simple for your players so they can learn and play fast is a big thing for me.”
“We’ve got some guys that can create mismatches, I would say, on offense. We’ve got to continue to develop depth.”
As Freund goes through his first fall camp as offensive coordinator, he will continue to look for ways to fine-tune the offense ahead of the season opener Aug. 31 against Drake.
It will just be a little different than riding an exercise bike while watching VHS tapes.
“He might still have a vault of them somewhere,” Freund said.