Defensive Duo Brings New Identity To Denton
Mike Ekeler And Troy Reffett Have Helped To Bring A New Defensive Identity
DENTON — When North Texas’ new defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler first met his senior linebacker Fred Scott in February he did something not many have done to the two-year starter.
“He caught me off guard,” Scott said with a smile. “He asked me what my ring size was.”
Unsure exactly what he was talking about he asked Ekeler to explain.
“He said he was going to put a ring on my finger,” Scott described. “That enthusiasm and belief he and our other defensive coordinator Troy Reffett have shown has meant a lot to us.”
Ekeler first met the Mean Green’s first-year head coach Seth Littrell in 2011 while they were both at Indiana. When Littrell was hired at North Texas in December of 2015, he reached out to Ekeler about joining forces together again. When the opportunity to add Reffett to the staff as a co-defensive coordinator came about it was a no brainer.
“He’s one of the best defensive coordinators and coaches of the 3-3 defense,” Ekeler said of Reffett. “I have the utmost respect for him. He’s worked with some of the best defensive minds in ball.”
However, from their personalities to their football backgrounds, the coordinators couldn’t be any more different.
As a fall camp practice neared its end on a late afternoon in early August the team came together for a final period of scrimmaging. During the session, Reffett and Ekeler stood on opposite ends of the field as they normally do. Ekeler, whose main focus is with the linebackers, coaches while standing behind the offense. Reffett stands deep behind the defense coaching his defensive backs.
As a play ended with a successful tackle for loss, Reffett approached a defensive back with a stern face and deep imposing voice that could be heard from the sideline. Ekeler on the other hand, jumped high into the air and ran up to a linebacker and celebrated with the rest of the players around him.
“They’re like The Odd Couple,” Scott said with a laugh. “But it’s a couple where opposites attract and work perfectly.”
From 2004 to 2008, Reffett coached the University of New Mexico defense, working under then Lobos’ head coach Rocky Long, whom Ekeler called the godfather of the 3-3 defense.
Ekeler on the other hand, was brought up in the 4-3 family of Pete Carroll and Bo Pelini, and most recently has worked in the 3-4 scheme at USC and Georgia.
“It’s really given us the opportunity to have multiple views with one goal,” Reffett said. “The goal is to win and put the best defense out there. And in this game you’re going to work with lots of guys whose backgrounds and philosophies are different than yours. But if you’re main goal is winning you find a way. And the fact that we have more than one way to be successful is only going to help us.”
Reffett explained that at the end of the day there is just one who makes the call on game day, but game planning throughout the week is a mesh of both philosophies and personalities that creates what the coordinators want, which is wins and eventually rings.
As practice continued, Reffett went back to his perch behind the defense, surrounded by a few underclassmen picking his brain on each play. While Reffett talked to them he also kept an eye on play, occasionally abruptly putting a hold on the conversation to bellow instructions to the players in the scrimmage.
“It’s really nice having two coaches that you not only respect for their knowledge, but coaches you feel have your best interest and are doing this for you,” Scott said. “But not only that, we feel they’ll protect us. And I know at a lot of schools the coordinators won’t do that. And we have two of them.”
After a brief lull, Ekeler huddled his defense. At that moment, music started bumping over the practice field’s loudspeakers, and next thing you know Ekeler had the defense jumping up and down in the huddle and passionately yelling
“I’m a glass half full kind of guy,” Ekeler explained. “Heck, I’m probably more a glass overflowing kind of guy. Reffett, though, he’s more in the middle of the glass. But together we balance each other out to what we feel is a solid glass. And it starts with our love for the guys.”
As Scott retold the story of how he and Ekeler first met, he’d occasionally pause, spread his fingers wide and stretch his hand out in front of him as if he was imagining there was a ring on it.
After telling the story, he paused again staring down on his finger.
“When you have a coach or coordinator that cares about you and wants you to be successful, that’s special,” Scott said. “It takes you to another level.”
“And we have two,” he added again.