Matt Ebner is passionate about coaching. There’s no doubt about it.

But football isn’t his only love, and he’s decided it’s time to pursue another.

The former UW-Eau Claire defensive coordinator announced on Sunday he was stepping down from his role to take a position teaching math in the Mondovi School District.

The decision to leave college football wasn’t easy. But Ebner said the timing felt right.

“Coaching college football is a great profession. It’s extremely rewarding,” he said. “But it’s one that also demands a lot, as anyone who has gone through college football as a player or coach will surely understand. If you want to be good at it, there really is a lot of time that you have to put into it. ... And unfortunately it can take away from other things in life, including time with family and friends.

“Stepping away when this has been such a big part of your life for so long is tough, but I know it’s the right decision for me and my family moving forward.”

Ebner will leave some big shoes to fill on the Blugolds sideline. During his four years as defensive coordinator, he helped turn the team around from a dire stretch.

In 2018, his defense was a big reason behind the squad’s four-win campaign. The Blugolds led the WIAC in sacks and red zone defense, and finished third in the league in total defense. That year, two Blugolds defensive players earned first team All-WIAC honors.

Eau Claire ranked third in total defense in the WIAC again in 2019. The defense was instrumental in the Blugolds’ upset of sixth-ranked St. Thomas, stopping a two-point conversion attempt in the final moments of the game.

“I’d like to think that some of the things we’ve done the last few years here have set a good stage for the next coach who will take over for me,” Ebner said. “There were some ups and downs, but I feel like we were able to take some great steps forward from where this football program was when I first took over as defensive coordinator.”

Ebner, who played defensive end for the Blugolds from 2005 to 2008, said he’ll miss forging relationships with players the most. Over the last few days, several former players and colleagues have taken to social media to thank him for his dedication to his craft.

“Lucky to have called this man a colleague and more fortunate to have him as a friend,” Blugolds offensive line coach and run game coordinator Mike McHugh tweeted. “He understood the responsibility that comes with the title ‘coach’ and left those better than he found them.”

Reaching out to the seniors to inform them of his decision to step away was the toughest part of the process, Ebner said.

“When I look back on my college coaching career, it’s really been about the relationships,” he said. “There’s a lot of amazing people that I’ve learned a lot from not just professionally, but personally as well. It’s the same thing with all the players I’ve coached. Whether they were with me for a year, or went through from being a freshman to a senior, it’s those relationships and what I was able to do to help those student-athletes grow as people and be better men. ... That’s the biggest thing that stands out in my mind.”

Ebner will still have the chance to do that, albeit in a different setting.

He studied math education in college, and has always felt a drive to get into teaching. Before becoming a football coach, that was his plan.

It got postponed by a decade or so, but now it has a chance to come to fruition.

“As a student, I had great teachers that always helped me out. So that’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Ebner said. “In a lot of ways, there’s not a huge difference between (coaching and teaching) for me. ... I’m going to have that opportunity now in the classroom, and I’m hoping to do the same thing. I know I want to focus initially here on being the best teacher I can be. I want to be able to give my students the very best every day, that’s what they deserve.”

And he can’t rule out a return to coaching someday either. But until that itch comes, he wants to have the same impact in the classroom as he did on the gridiron.

Blugolds head coach Wesley Beschorner was not available for comment on where he’ll look to fill Ebner’s position. Eau Claire is currently scheduled to open the season on September 5 at St. Thomas in Saint Paul.