Posted: 2:42 pm Tuesday, February 18th, 2014
By Chip Towers
I ran across an interesting link on Twitter from the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper in Nebraska. It had reprinted on the Nebraska Conrhusker-dedicated blog, “Life in the Red,” a letter Mike Ekeler had sent folks up there who had a hand in him recently landing his job as a linebackers coach at Georgia.
Turns out Ekeler had a lot of folks working on his behalf from up that way, including the preeminent ‘Husker Tom Osborne, and current Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. They were among the many coaches that called Bulldogs’ head coach Mark Richt and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to recommend Ekeler. Ekeler as the fourth and final defensive assistant hired by Richt. The announcement came on Feb. 6.
Sometime after that, Ekeler wrote a thank-you letter to all the different people who recommended him for the Georgia job and helped him through the job search when he was unexpectedly “on the street” after the bizarre coaching fallout at Southern Cal. That letter eventually found its way into the hands of the Lincoln Journal-Star, which reprinted it in its entirety.
It provides some nice insight into the dilemma that faced Ekeler and his family and the role networking and relationship-building — and keeping — played in him ending up with the Bulldogs. It also provides a glimpse of Ekeler’s personality.
Here it is:
Dec. 24th, 2010, was one of the hardest days of my life. We had our last bowl practice in Lincoln and it was the day I told our LB group (Will Compton, Sean Fisher, Lavonte David, Alonzo Whaley, Matt May and pseudo assistant coach Blake Lawrence) that I was leaving. After practice we gathered in our LB group and I broke the news, at least tried to break the news. I couldn’t talk, I just started crying and looked up and the whole group was crying. When you leave a dream job, you leave for one reason, and that is to grow both as a person and as a coach.
Fast forward three years. Having spent two forgettable years at Indiana (Oh, I learned more than I wanted!) and one great, highly unusual year at USC (basically four head coaches in one season), I found myself in a position no coach wants to be in. On Dec. 21st, after completing a 10-win season, having the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 and No. 13 defense nationally, I was out of work.
Let me back up to Dec. 2. I was in St. Louis visiting a recruit, came out of the school and was driving to Chicago. I heard on the radio that USC had just hired Steve Sarkisian. I turned around and headed to the airport and back to L.A. On Dec. 3rd, USC athletic director Pat Haden introduced the staff to Clay Helton (interim head coach No. 2, an unreal guy) and future Head Coach Sarkisian (another great guy).
Sark was in an unusual position. Usually a head coach comes in after a bad season and it’s all very cut and dried. But we had a remarkable season, winning 10 games (while suiting up just 47 players), and going through essentially four coaching changes. Sark told us he hadn’t made any staff decisions and he would meet with all of us.
Dec. 4th, I was sitting in my office game-planning for our bowl game and noticed who I thought was Peter Sirmon (Sark’s LB coach from Washington). He was in the office across the hall filling out H.R. paperwork. I walked over and introduced myself as the “former LBs coach at USC.” I ended up meeting with Sark the next day and told him if he hadn’t brought his defensive coaches from UW, I wouldn’t have respected him or wanted to work for him. During the next three weeks, I became friends with all the new coaches. It was unusual. We shared our offices and they watched the bowl practices. Dec. 21 we won our bowl game, and I’m officially on the street.
So, the real purpose of this letter. There is a saying in life: “Who are your six?” Meaning, when the crap hits the fan, who is going to be there for you? When you’re out of work in coaching, you find out in a hurry. Jan. 15th, the University of Georgia LBs coach leaves to go to the NFL. Jan. 16th, I called Tom Osborne at 7 a.m. and asked if he would call Georgia head coach Mark Richt. Coach Osborne called me back 20 minutes later and said they had a great visit, and Coach Richt would truly consider interviewing me. At 8 a.m., Bo Pelini called and spoke with Coach Richt and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Jeff Jamrog called his good friend Josh Brooks, who works in the Georgia athletic department, and the ball was rolling.
Helton made calls to his good friends, Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Bob Stoops called Pruitt … All this to try to get an interview!! Jan. 23rd, I received a call from Pruitt. He said they were going to bring me and a few others in to interview for the last defensive spot. I called Nebraska video coordinator Mike Nobler, a great guy, and he hooked me up with all of Georgia’s game film via Hudl; that was huge.
Jan. 31st, I went to Athens and interviewed. What a process!!! During my interview, Coach Richt told the staff, “Mike pulled out the Big Gun on me, Coach Osborne, so I had to bring him in.”
I could write a book on this experience …
My point is it’s a very difficult profession. Bo called on every job that I had interest in. He went way out of his way for me and my family. John Papuchis wore out the phones for me. I can’t leave out Monte Kiffin (who I got to know when I was at Nebraska); he is the one who brought me out to USC to work for Lane Kiffin (who made calls to both Richt and Pruitt). Now I get to work for a great man, Coach Richt, who was born in Omaha and both parents are South High grads. I left Nebraska three years ago and the people who were there for me in my time of need are in Nebraska. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to coach at the University of Georgia, another dream job, and I hope to be there for 20 years! It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for my Nebraska Family.
Go Huskers and Sic Em Dogs!!!!