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February 23, 2013Mike Ekeler wanted badly to coach at USC and on his second shot at the linebackers coaching job, the former Indiana U. co-defensive coordinator and onetime Kansas State captain and linebacker got his wish when the Trojans hired him Friday.
IU head coach Kevin Wilson tweeted the news this weekend: "Mike Ekeler has accepted a job at Southern Cal. He is an excellent coach and we appreciate the contributions he made to our program."
The Crimson Quarry blog called it "a blow . . . to the effort to rebuild the defense . . . Ekeler was well regarded, and if nothing else was fun to watch on the sideline."
It's the one quality about the fiery Ekeler that's always a part of his bio. From his days as a special teams rocket for Kansas State leaping over blockers to his vertical leaping ability and chest bumps on the sidelines, Ekeler brings an Ed Orgeron quality to the Trojans sideline and the defensive side of the football.
At Kansas State, Ekeler was the lone player elevated by Coach Bill Snyder, interestingly also a onetime USC assistant, to a captain for the Wildcats. While Ekeler is giving up a co-cordinator's role for a return to a position coach, which he was for three years most recently at Nebraska under Bo Pelini from 2008 through 2010 before his last two seasons at IU, he gets to coach talent he had no chance to see at Indiana.
Pete DiPremio of the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel said that "Ekeler was a passionate coach and a strong recruiter who didn't hesitate to accept responsibility for the Hoosiers' many defensive lapses the last two seasons. That was a common theme given Indiana ranked among the nation's worst defenses - mostly because of a lack of talent and experience."
ESPN's Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg said the loss of Ekeler hurts IU in another way: "Ekeler helped spearhead recruiting, which has picked up significantly on the defensive side. He's a young, dynamic coach and a good addition for Lane Kiffin's new-look staff in Los Angeles . . . Ekeler is a big loss [for IU], especially on the recruiting trail."
For Ekeler, however, the Crimson Quarry concluded it was the right move: "Coach Ekeler is an ambitious and energetic guy, and if he thinks that the USC job puts him in a better position for upward mobility than the IU job, he's probably correct."
And it's been upward mobility recently for Ekeler, who served two years as a grad assistant on defense at Oklahoma from 2003-2005, including the BCS title game against USC, and then another two as a GA plus a third as an intern at LSU under defensive coordinator Pelini through 2007.
Ekeler followed Pelini to Nebraska as linebackers coach from 2008 through 2010 and then took the IU co-coordinator's and linebacker coaching position for the last two seasons.
He's had moderate success with young linebackers at both places with Nebraska middle linebacker Lavonte David selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay. Under Ekeler, he was 11th in the country with 152 tackles, a school record, in 2010. Another Nebraska linebacker, Phillip Dillard was selected in the fourth round in 2010 by the New York Giants. And Cody Glenn moved from running back to linebacker as a senior, was drafted in the fourth round by the Washington Redskins.
At LSU in 2006 and 2007, he helped the Tigers win the SEC and national titles. LSU was a perfect 3-0 in bowl games, winning the 2005 Peach Bowl, the 2006 Sugar Bowl and the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, when Ekeler was there and LSU finished third nationally in total defense in 2005 and 2006. Five LSU linebackers during his time there -- Jacob Cutrera (Jacksonville), Perry Riley (Washington), Kelvin Sheppard (Buffalo), Ali Highsmith (Arizona) and Cameron Vaughn (Denver) -- went on to become NFL players.
Both Ekeler's Oklahoma teams made it to the national championship game, as USC fans well remember the last one, finishing 24-3 those two seasons.
A four-year letterman at Kansas State, Ekeler played in two bowl games -- the 1993 Copper Bowl and the 1994 Aloha Bowl. He earned academic all-conference honors and graduated in 1995 with a bachelor's degree in social science.
Ekeler and his wife, Barbie, have one son, J.J. (12) and three daughters, Cameryn (11), Abigail (9) and Bella (5).
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.