When the Trojans begin Spring Ball next week, we will finally get a glimpse at what USC’s new hires bring to the table. One of the most exciting new additions is Mike Ekeler; a man educated in the Bill Snyder School of Thought, touting an extensive repertoire of successful position coaches.
His coaching experience starts at Oklahoma, where for two years he learned under Co-Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini. In 2003, the Sooners’ defense ranked No. 3 overall and No. 20 against the run. From there, he followed Pelini to LSU and worked as a graduate assistant for the Tigers in 2005, a squad that finished Top 10 in all defensive statistical categories that year.
Ekeler saw the most success and growth when he worked at Nebraska. Here he experienced his first big promotion to Linebackers Coach. Like his previous two coaching stints, the Huskers grew and improved defensively under his–and Pelini’s–tutelage. The Huskers saw Top 10 defensive rankings all three years that he coached the linebackers, and helped see Nebraska to back-to-back Big 12 North Division title games.
Even at Indiana—where the talent level was not nearly at that of Oklahoma, LSU, or Nebraska—Ekeler’s guidance as the linebackers coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator played an integral role in bolstering Indiana’s defense play. Ekeler coached at Indiana from 2010-2012 and the job he did there has led to his job at USC.
Ekeler is a great look for USC. His career demonstrates a sense of growth and improvement everywhere he has coached. Ekeler established his reputation playing for the Kansas State Wildcats under Bill Snyder. He built upon that when he turned his attention to coaching and was trained under Bo Pelini; Pelini had so much faith in him that he made sure to bring Ekeler along for every coaching change he made. With him at the helm in Troy, a restoration process to the linebacker corps can be expected.
USC’s past few seasons have seen a mediocre output from the linebackers, a far cry from the days when Linebacker U dominated the Pac-12. The Tampa-2 scheme had a number of defensive players routinely playing out of position and the new scheme that Clancy Pendergast brings takes the opposite approach. The linebackers will not only be put into positions where they can readily succeed, but the defensive ends will also spend time as outside linebackers this season. This will surely go a long way for the senior ends on roster who envision transitioning to the next level.
Ekeler is already pretty popular with the young men in his linebacker corps and he is widely respected by other coaches in the football world. His experience sets a high ceiling for expectations among players, fans, and his peers. The roots of this new, higher caliber of play will be cultivated starting this spring.
It is unrealistic to expect that Ekeler will come and have everything fixed by opening day. That said, Ekeler injects new life into the program and brings with him an aggressive style of play that players love. His ability to connect with players is undoubtedly an integral component of his development program. If Ekeler replicates the successes he has had elsewhere while he is with the Trojans, it could go a long way toward USC returning to the top of defensive rankings. Additionally, it would provide current/incoming athletes with all the tools they would need to succeed at the next level.
It might not be Linebacker U again yet, but in time, Ekeler will surely develop a class worthy of induction to that illustrious fraternity of defensive legends.