Playing to Win: Does Mora Have Harbaugh’s Natural Killer Instincts?

Playing to win is a natural mindset. Jim Harbaugh has it. What about Jim Mora? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

So yes we are going to have an open thread again this weekend taking in the NFL action. BruinsNation is filled with 49ers' faithful (which includes bunch of us on the homepage). We are going to be vested in the second game of the NFL double header. The connections are way too many to list. Just for starters there is the relationship between our current head coach and his tenure as a DC for number of years at Candlestick. We have sons of at least two 49er legends playing in our current team. There is also Niner legend Randy Cross routinely channeling our thoughts and often mentioning us by name when discussing UCLA. It goes on and on.

The euphoria after the Niners game here last Saturday was pretty evident in the comment thread. I have been meaning to follow up on a specific comment made by islandbruin after that epic game, which I think is pertinent to big picture discussions here at BN. Here were islandbruin's money observations after Niners pulled off that epic win against New Orleans Saints:

Harbaugh Did Not Play It Safe

Biggest takeaway for me today was that good things happen when you trust your players, and let them loose. I can't imagine many NFL teams running a QB sweep on 3rd and long in field goal range- too worried about fumble or some other problem, so run it up the middle for a FG. The result instead- TD.

Then on the final drive, less than 20 seconds, FG sends it to OT. So what does Harbaugh call? Pass for the winning TD. Quite a contrast to David Shaw, who took the ball out of Luck's hands and left the entire game on the skinny shoulders of a freshman place-kicker.

It is clear that the Niners players would run through a brick wall for Harbaugh. It is easy to see why. Hope we can get that kind of passion, intensity and take a risk mindset in the future.

Well the comparison to David Shaw couldn't be more appropriate. That was the exact thought going through my head when Harbaugh and his coaches dialed up "Vernon Post" in that last drive. I didn't get to watch the Smith run because I was rushing back home from the airport and following it all on the BN thread. But looking back the highlights, the call seemed amazingly courageous and yes a huge contrast with what we saw from Shaw, and what we experienced under Terry Donahue and his disciples in Westwood.

I have no idea what is going to happen on Sunday. The Giants are going to be pretty tough. I know many of my Giants friends here in DC (amazingly) are not big fans of Tom Coughlin. As an outsider though I see a team that seems pretty well coached, disciplined and peaking at the right time under the leadership of who I think is one of the best QBs in the game. Plus we have a soft spot for Coach Coughlin here on BN for obvious reasons. As balanced as well coached the Niners are, I think they will be the underdogs. It should be a classic game. As a long time Niners fan, I am still bitter about the Giants ending the career of Number 16 in 1991, while the Giants' fans are still complaining about a blown call in 2003. So we are well set up for an epic rubber game on Sunday night.

What I do know is the Niners will go into this game in a fearless state of mine and with a coach who will be playing to win every step of the way. Now bringing this back to UCLA, thinking about our program, as encouraged as I have been about what Mora has accomplished in his early weeks as the head coach of Bruins, the question in my mind is whether he has those Harbaugh instincts that will shine through on game days?

I don't need to link back to the old posts here on BruinsNation. I think you can use the search function on the top right of this blog and look up number of extended musings imploring Rick Neuheisel to shed his conservatism as the head coach of our program. It was a shock to our collective system to realize Neuheisel was just another disciple of boring Donahue football, who was always playing not to lose.

While the conservative principles that seemed to dictate his offensive and defensive schemes were frustrating to watch, what was infuriating was to see a UCLA head coach who never really believed in his team's ability and talent to win. Perhaps this was rooted in the failure of him and his staff's ability to coach up, develop talents. Perhaps it had to do with failure of his staff to indentify the right talent who would fit into a coherent scheme. Whatever it was under Neuheisel (and Dorrell/Donahue) UCLA always appeared to be a vanilla, passive and soft program.

Now I like what Mora has done in his first few weeks. I appreciate the sound bites coming from him regarding "culture change." I appreciate the moves he is making with regards to bringing some much needed discipline in our program. The concern I still have is whether Mora is someone who is going to be able to shape up our program in a way, so that it plays with the same fearless and tenacious mindset every game day, taking its cue from a head coach who will never even think twice about going for the win.

Jim Harbaugh's killer instincts are natural. I am not sure if those are qualities one can learn and grow into over the years. Either a "leader" has those instincts or he doesn't. From what I have seen after one year David Shaw doesn't have it. As much as I hate to admit it Cheatey Petey had "it" at least when it comes to coaching on game days. None of the UCLA coaches I have experienced since 1980s have had "it." I think the answer to the question of whether or not Mora has "it" will be known soon enough (I think within next 2 years).

The improvement from a 6-10 49ers team from last year to what we have seen is obvious. Same way it was obvious that Stanford was headed towards a different dimension after it experienced two years under Jim Harbaugh. I think if Mora is going to bring in a dramatic culture change in Westwood, it will not be difficult for us to see those improvements from results, game performances, and Mora's decision making process on the field.

I am hoping and praying we experience at BruinsNation what Stanford alums got to experience under Harbaugh and what the Niners Nation is experiencing and set to live through for number of (hopefully glorious) years.

I will end this post with a poll. If your favorite team is not among the Final-4, simply list "other" and write in the comment thread.

GO BRUINS.

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