When Jim Mora was hired as UCLA’s head football coach in the winter of 2011, well, to be blunt, it created just about the same buzz in Los Angeles as the release of a new Pauley Shore movie might: Essentially, it created no buzz at all.
For a program which had been living in the shadow of USC since the late 1990’s, the arrival of Mora- a man who had only coached one season in college his entire career, as a graduate assistant in 1984- was seen as a random shot in the dark, with little hope of success. The fact that UCLA’s administration settled on Mora only after swinging and missing on Chris Petersen and a number of other, seemingly “bigger” candidates didn’t help the school’s public image either.
But after all that off-season uncertainty, a funny thing happened. On their way to another mediocre coaching hire, the Bruins actually struck gold with Mora. In just a few short months Mora transformed the program from “afterthought in its own city” to a 9-4 club and Pac-12 South champion. Things might not have been perfect in Year 1 under Mora. But they were pretty damn close.
So what did Mora do to make magic in Westwood, and more importantly, what’s ahead for this program?
Let’s take a look, in the first installment of Crystal Ball Run’s new series, titled “Evaluating College Football’s First Year Coaches.”
What Went Right: For Mora “What Went Right” was just about everything actually, and it started in his earliest days on campus. Mora promised a tougher football team and began the process of molding the Bruins into exactly that with a grueling fall camp in the desert of San Bernardino. By the time UCLA returned for the start of the season, they were a completely different program, going from passive to aggressive, soft to hardened, and weak-minded to mentally strong under Mora’s watch.
Those changes showed immediately in a Week 2 win against Nebraska, and continued throughout the season as the wins and stats piled up. In the process, Johnathan Franklin rushed for over 1,000 yards and Brett Hundley became one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in college football.
By the time UCLA beat cross-town rival USC on November 17, two things had become abundantly clear: The football monopoly was over in Los Angeles. And a new Pac-12 South power had arrived.
What Went Wrong: As exciting as those first 10 games were, the season did end on a little bit of a bummer with three straight losses. In defense of the Bruins, getting knocked off by Stanford in both the regular season finale and Pac-12 title game was certainly understandable (especially since the Cardinal will likely start next season in the Top 5), even if a no-show against Baylor in the Holiday Bowl wasn’t. In that game, the Bruins defense put up an especially pathetic effort, giving up nearly 500 yards of total offense to the Bears.
More importantly that Holiday Bowl loss showed that as exciting as things are at UCLA, there is still plenty of work to be done.
Where Do Things Go From Here: After a 9-4 season, not surprisingly the buzz around this program is through the roof. The regular season success continued into recruiting, where the Bruins absolutely owned the 2013 cycle, bringing in the top class in the Pac-12 and one that is considered to be amongst the Top 10 of any program in the country. The fact that it came at the expense of the sliding USC Trojans certainly didn’t hurt either.
As for “What’s Next,” well, it’s hard not to see the Bruins entering 2013 as the Pac-12 South favorites. USC loses a slew of talented of players, Arizona and Arizona State aren’t quite “there” yet, Utah won’t be factor, and well... have you seen Colorado? Add in instability at Oregon and a revenge factor in terms of Stanford, and it’s very easy to see a scenario where the Bruins win the Pac-12 in Year 2 under Mora.
To quote the great philosopher Puff Daddy: The sky’s the limit. But the UCLA football program ain’t done jumpin’.
Jim Mora’s First Year Coaching Grade: A-
For all his opinion, analysis and insight on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
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Very good analysis. I think people in Westwood are still remaining cautious, but dammit, does it feel good to garner some excitement. This team feels real, genuine. Mora's likely going to take 'em to San Berdo again -- he was unsure about three months ago -- so it's nice. I think the defining thing for him was his willingness to play freshmen, and it got everyone really motivated to compete. He's also an incredibly great guy, both with the media and with his players (albeing a tad high-wired; high control/high love, you know?).
Carlos, thanks. Honestly I know that Coach Mora got a little bit of a reputation for being tough with the media, but I spent some time with him at the Holiday Bowl and he was nothing but a class act.
With the way he is recruiting, the sky really is the limit for this team and program.
I agree that Jim MORA has got a good program started at UCLA. Did you notice that there was not the yearly OVER THE WALL escape by the players? After the fall camp, the players knew he was SERIOUS about putting a TEAM on the field that REPRESENTED UCLA at it's BEST. I look forward to watching the TEAM OF COACHES that he has called in to help, achieve even bigger awards.
Coach, I know very well about the "Over the Wall" escapades, and how Mora put an end to it.
I said this during the season, but couldn't figure out a way to include it in the article: You know how every head coach claims they're going to "change the culture" at a school when they arrive? Mora did exactly that.
Thanks for reading!
@Aaron Torres Remembeing back to the Champ or Bowl game, the ENTIRE TEAM lined up for the flag salute & looked VERY PROUD of their TEAM!! That one moment will remain with me for years. No better judgement than that, when requested by a coach.