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New defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler helping change the culture at North Texas

New defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler helping change the culture at North Texas

Defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler yells from the sidlines during a defensive possesion against Marshall. Colin Mitchell

New defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler helping change the culture at North Texas
October 12
15:57 2016

When Mike Ekeler was playing linebacker at Kansas State University under Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder in the early 90s, he set a record.

But you won’t find his name scribbled in the NCAA history books anywhere.

“When I played a hundred years ago, I set the NCAA record for having more fun than anyone,” Ekeler said jokingly. “When I got into coaching, I said I was going to enjoy it more than anybody.”

He seems to be living up to his promise.

Ekeler’s antics have caused just about everyone to take notice — including his boss. Head coach Seth Littrell knows the excitement Ekeler brings to the field and summed it up in two words.

“Energy and passion,” Littrell said. “He’s very sharp. He understands what he’s looking for and understands the scheme.”

Without Littrell, Ekeler would not have come to Denton. The hiring of Littrell is one of the main reasons Ekeler decided to call North Texas his new home.

With a resume that has coaching gigs at the University of Southern California, University of Oklahoma, Louisiana State University, Indiana University, Nebraska University, and most recently, the University of Georgia, there is little doubt Ekeler could have landed just about anywhere in the country he wanted to go.

But coaching is a job for a people person, and Littrell knew just the person to call to fill his defensive coordinator void.

His former colleague was sold — and ready to join the Mean Green.

“I’m 100 percent standing here today because of Seth Littrell,” Ekeler said. “I think he’s an unbelievable football coach and a great person. I believe in the guy.”

Despite a powerhouse pedigree featuring some of the most renowned football programs in the nation, one thing mattered above all else to Ekeler.

“I’ve worked at some of the greatest schools history-wise in the game,” Ekeler said. “But what it boils down to is people. You can be at the University of Georgia and be miserable if you’re working with shitty people. I really enjoy my work environment and the players here.”

In just six short weeks, Ekeler has turned what was the eighth-worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year into a stone wall in the red zone.

Defensice Coordiantor Mike ekeler stands on the sideline during the Middle Tennessee State University game. Ekeler spent the lst two seasons as inside linebackers coach at Georgia. Colin Mitchell

Defensive Coordinator Mike Ekeler stands on the sideline during the Middle Tennessee State University game. Ekeler spent the first two seasons as inside linebackers coach at Georgia. Colin Mitchell

The Mean Green rank 79th in total defense in the FBS, with opponents averaging 418.8 yards per game. Compared to 2015, the Mean Green defense has cut its opponent’s points per game total almost in half.

But the red zone is where North Texas shines.

Inside the 20-yard line, the Mean Green are tied for 38th in the country with Duke University, Appalachian State University and No. 7 Louisville in red zone defense. The energy Ekeler brings to the defense is a big part of the turnaround.

And the players feed off it.

“He’s always jumping up and down and never letting us get our heads down,” senior defensive end Jareid Combs said. “Don’t let him slap your hand after a big play. He’s going to hit you hard.”

At the same time, Ekeler gets his buzz from his players.

“I feed off their energy,” Ekeler said. “These guys are out here loving it. They’re having a blast. We’re just having fun together.”

While relationships and fun are a massive part of coaching, Ekeler does not let that get in the way of what he hopes to accomplish, which is teaching his players.

Most of his fun comes from watching his players grasp a new concept.

“That’s all we are – teachers,” Ekeler said. “I enjoy teaching. When the guys get it, and understand it and come together to play for each other, it’s fun to watch that come together.”

In six games this season, junior defensive back Kishawn McClain has run rampant, setting a new career high in interceptions with three. He is also tied for the team lead in tackles with 41.

Part of that is thanks to Ekeler focusing on the fundamentals.

“He’ll coach you on what you need to do,” McClain said. “He’s a mentor, a teacher and a coach all in one. I look up to him and I really respect him. He’s given me a lot of knowledge on the field and off the field. I really like that about him.”

Relationships are important to Ekeler, and the relationships he has built in his short time in Denton have helped in the overhaul of football culture at the university.

And even though having fun and winning are his top priorities, Ekeler ultimately knows what all of his players need.

“They don’t need and old man like me to be a friend,” Ekeler said. “They need somebody to be a mentor. They need somebody to teach them, somebody to develop them. In my opinion, we’ve got a bunch of great teachers on this coaching staff, and we’re going to get it done.”

Featured Image: Defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler yells from the sidelines during a defensive possession against Marshall. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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