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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Jim Mora to be UCLA’s Next Head Coach … and I’m on Board with it

Jim Mora reportedly will be named the next head coach of UCLA’s football program Saturday, replacing Rick Neuheisel who went 21-29 over four seasons. The Bruins athletic department undoubtedly dropped the tip to the LA Times and ESPN LA late Friday night because they wanted to bury the news over the weekend. They knew this hire would not go over well with the fan base.

Our friends at Bruins Nation have been rightfully railing on AD Dan Guerrero, who botched the last two football hires. They did not want Mora as head coach.

Similarly, most fans had their hopes up after being told the Bruins were going to spend megabucks to get Chris Petersen from Boise State. UCLA’s head coaching pursuit was over-hyped, making Mora’s hiring a letdown in their eyes. I never bought into the hype because I knew neither Chris Petersen nor Steve Sarkisian were going to leave their jobs — certainly not for UCLA — so Mora is not a letdown to me.

So why am I on board with the Jim Mora hire? For several reasons.

Most importantly, I could tell after two years that Rick Neuheisel was not taking the program where it needed to be. I wanted him fired after his third year. I mentally had checked out of UCLA football this season because I was sick of hearing all the hype from Rick. Like most fans, I am ready for a change. I have been ready for a change. Jim Mora presents that.

Jim Mora is also a players’ coach. He and Mike Vick were super tight in Atlanta. I think his ability to be close with his players will serve him extremely well in recruiting. Warrick Dunn, who was Mora’s running back in Atlanta, had similar things to say during an interview with me earlier this week.

“I liked him as a coach. He’s a players’ coach. He understands the game. He can motivate,” Dunn told me. “I think his weakness was that he was new to the position, and he was just young. First head coaching job, sometimes they worry about the inexperience. I think he’ll be a great coach. He’s learned a lot from his time in Atlanta and I know he had a brief stint with the Seahawks, but he should be OK. He can motivate people to always be at their best.”

I think Mora’s fiery attitude well play well with college athletes. I think he will be able to motivate his players. I think he will recruit well.

His fiery attitude can also have some negative repercussions. He is going to be controversial. He will not get along with the media. He may call out his players. That’s a given. You just have to evaluate him on how his teams perform rather than what the critics say.

I also think Mora’s been unreasonably maligned for his losing record as a head coach in the NFL. He was 31-33 in four seasons — three with the Falcons, and one with the Seahawks. I think his 26-22 record with the Falcons is a much better indication of what kind of coach he is. He went 11-5 in his first year and reached the NFC Championship Game. I pretty much throw out his 5-11 season with the Seahawks in 2009. That team was not very good, Matt Hasselbeck had a terrible season, and he only had one year as coach before ownership pushed him out to hire Pete Carroll. Carroll hasn’t exactly turned Seattle into a juggernaut for the same reason — they haven’t had much talent.

Speaking of Pete Carroll, there are some parallels between the two. Carroll was 33-31 in four seasons as an NFL coach and 49 years old when USC hired him. He was the Trojans’ fourth choice as head coach. Most of the media and fans were disappointed with the hire. Jim Mora was 31-33 in four seasons in the NFL. He was the fourth or fifth coach UCLA pursued besides Petersen, Kevin Sumlin, Al Golden, and possibly Steve Sarkisian. He’s now 50 years old.

I don’t think Mora is going to turn UCLA into a powerhouse the way Carroll did with USC, but I think fans should be enthusiastic about having a new guy in charge.

A few more things. Mora is relatively young and should be well-rested after two years away from coaching. He pulled himself out of the running for the Broncos and Eagles defensive coordinator positions because he was waiting for the right opportunity. It’s safe to say this was an opportunity he wanted, and one he thought was worth getting back into coaching for. I think that is a strong indication of his mindset, and I think means he’s going to operate with a high motor.

I would expect he’ll reach out to Greg Knapp, the current QB coach for the Texans. Knapp was Mora’s offensive coordinator in Seattle and Atlanta. They were coordinators on the same 49ers teams in the ’90s. That would be my bet for offensive coordinator.

Keep an eye out for Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator. Donatell was Mora’s DC all three years in Atlanta. He’s currently a defensive backs coach with the 49ers — a defense that has been spectacular this season.

I don’t know what kind of success Jim Mora will have, but I am eager to see what he can do. Most importantly, we finally have a new coach, and I am optimistic about the program for the first time in two years.

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