Fortunately, spring football is just around the corner, just in time to give us something positive (we hope) to look at in the wake of Ben Howland's dumpster fire program missing the NCAA tournament (again) in one of the most dysfunctional, embarrassing seasons for the program built by Coach Wooden, all while Chianti Dan fiddles and drives our athletic department further into the ground.
With Coach Mora now in charge (no thanks to Chianti Dan, who desperately wanted to give Rick Neuheisel and his failed regime another year to flail away), there is excitement surrounding our football program again. There's a new coaching staff in place, with a tough-talking head coach saying all of the right things. There's the promise that every position will be open for competition, especially at QB, the Achilles' heel of UCLA the last decade. Mora and his ace recruiters have brought in an influx of talent with a top-tier recruiting class. Lazy, undisciplined, or under-performing players have been shown the door. All signs point to a new era for football in Westwood. So, with spring football around the corner, let's take a look at some meta-thoughts on the football program as a whole, then begin our spring football preview with a look at the coaching staff (with the head coach and coordinators today and the individual position coaches later this week), before turning to each individual position group (starting with the defensive line later this week).
While optimism is high in Westwood following Mora's hire and excellent start on the recruiting trail, there's a caveat. Jim Mora had some glaring holes in his resume. He's never coached the college game before and he's never recruited before. He addressed those legitimate concerns and knocked it out of the park, hiring a coaching staff full of guys (Klemm, Martin, Broussard) who know how to recruit, rather than his buddies. He brought in an offensive coordinator (Mazzone) who knows how implement an effective college spread offense and a pair of NFL-caliber coaches in our defensive coordinator (Spanos) and strength and conditioning coach (Alosi). Thus far, he has not just met expectations, but exceeded them.
But here's the rub: all of that is meaningless unless he can win games on fall Saturdays. Rick Neuheisel was not a great coach, but he did re-stock the program with a lot of talent, especially on the offensive line after inheriting a program stripped of talent by Karl Dorrell. So, an 8-win season is very reasonable in Mora's first year in charge, especially given the Bruins' out-of-conference opponents and how weak the Pac-12 South projects to be.
Let's break that down in more detail after the jump.
In out-of-conference play, the Bruins start the season in Houston against a hapless Rice program coming off a 4-8 season. That should be a solid win for the Bruins. The balance of the out-of-conference schedule features Nebraska (which finished 9-4 last season) and Houston (finally without Case Keenum) at the Rose Bowl. Houston, without Keenum, should be an easy Bruin win. Nebraska is a very winnable game, but let's give Mora the benefit of the doubt and say he only comes up with 2 out of the 3 out-of-conference games. Turning to the Pac-12 season, the Bruins start with Oregon State at the Rose Bowl. That should be a win. Next up? Colorado at Boulder. Embree is turning things around for the Buffs (finally) but it won't be enough by next year to stop UCLA (but they'll be a tough opponent in 2013, even at the Rose Bowl). UCLA will follow that with a trip to the Bay Area to take on Cal at the new, renovated Memorial Stadium. We've had trouble there in the past, so let's call that one a Cal win. Next is Utah at the Rose Bowl. The Utes will be much improved with (1) the return of starting QB Jordan Wynn and (2) the departure of Norm Chow to Hawaii (addition by subtraction, as Bruin fans know all too well), but UCLA is at home, so the Bruins should win. That puts us at 5 wins.
On the back-half of the Pac-12 season, the Bruins get Arizona State in Tempe, and it will be a battle between the Sun Devils and Washington State to see who finishes at the bottom of the Pac-12, because both teams will be in full rebuilding mode after bad 2011 seasons with new coaches in charge. UCLA should leave Tempe with win #6. The Bruins get Arizona at the Rose Bowl, and with Nick Foles out of the picture, I suspect Mora and Spanos will do better keeping Matt Scott in check than Jim Tresey attempted to do two seasons ago. The Bruins should avenge the Disaster in the Desert at the Rose Bowl for their seventh win of the year. That leaves the Bruins with three games to pick up one win to make it eight on the year: at Washington State, against U$C at the Rose Bowl, and against Stanford at the Rose Bowl. Every one of those games is winnable, especially against Washington State and Stanford in the post-Andrew Luck era. So, when you look at our schedule, 8 wins should be the bare minimum expectation for Mora's first year in charge. Bear in mind, UCLA won 6 games last year, with Rick Neuheisel and his mediocre coaching staff in charge, with no stability at QB, and a tougher schedule (against Stanford with Andrew Luck in Palo Alto, against Arizona with Nick Foles in Tucson, against Houston with Case Keenum in Houston). Mora should easily be able to improve that regular-season mark by at least two wins.
With that, let's take a look at the men who will be leading our Bruins this upcoming season, starting with our head coach and coordinators in this first part, followed by our individual position coaches tomorrow afternoon.
Coaching Staff Spring Preview, Part I - Head Coach and Coordinators
With Chianti Dan being forced to reluctantly fire Rick Neuheisel (who was and always will be a great Bruin, but just not up to the task as the head coach in Westwood), there is a whole host of fresh faces occupying the football offices at Morgan Center. Let's take a look at Coach Mora and his new UCLA football coaching staff.
Head Coach Jim L. Mora
The new boss in Westwood came to the job with a lot of big question marks: no college coaching experience, outside a single season as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Washington, in 1984; an unimpressive 4-year stint as a NFL head coach (32-34 overall, with just one playoff season: his first year in Atlanta in 2004, in large part to Mike Vick being, well, Mike Vick in his pre-prison prime years); and two years away from football following his firing in Seattle. So far, Mora has answered all of the concerns, and met or exceeded expectations in Westwood. It remains to be seen if he'll be able to put it all together on the field and lead UCLA to at least an 8-win season (the minimum expectation, given the talent in the program and the schedule this year).
Total years of coaching experience: 26 years, 4 as a head coach
Coaching resume: Graduate assistant (Washington, 1 year); defensive quality control coach (San Diego Chargers, 4 years); defensive backs coach (San Diego Chargers, 3 years); defensive backs coach (New Orleans Saints, 5 years); defensive backs coach (San Francisco 49ers, 2 years); defensive coordinator (San Francisco 49ers, 5 years); head coach (Atlanta Falcons, 3 years); assistant head coach/defensive backs coach (Seattle Seahawks, 2 years); head coach (Seattle Seahawks, 1 year)
Alma mater: University of Washington
Notable players coached: Michael Vick, QB (Atlanta Falcons); Gill Byrd, DB (San Diego Chargers); Tim McDonald, SS (San Francisco 49ers); Merton Hanks, FS (San Francisco 49ers); Bryant Young, DT (San Francisco 49ers); Warrick Dunn, RB (Atlanta Falcons); DeAngelo Hall, CB (Atlanta Falcons); Matt Hasselbeck, QB (Seattle Seahawks)
Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach Noel Mazzone
Noel Mazzone and his patented N-Zone spread offense system have left Tempe for Westwood. The QB guru got headlines during this off-season for being sought out by a number of NFL quarterbacks to work on their form and mechanics, including Broncos QB Tim Tebow, Chargers QB Philip Rivers, and Vikings QB Christian Ponder. Mazzone wasted no time discarding Neuheisel's failed Pistol/Revolver concept and implementing his own system, as evident by the position changes on our roster.
Total years of coaching experience: 32 years, 14 as an offensive coordinator
Coaching resume: Graduate assistant (New Mexico, 2 years); quarterbacks/wide receivers coach (Colorado State, 5 years); quarterbacks coach (TCU, 5 years); quarterbacks coach (Minnesota, 3 years); offensive coordinator (Ole Miss, 4 years); offensive coordinator (Auburn, 3 years); offensive coordinator (Oregon State, 1 year); offensive coordinator (North Carolina State, 2 years); offensive coordinator (Ole Miss, 1 year); wide receivers coach (New York Jets, 3 years); offensive coordinator (Panther Creek HS, 1 year); offensive coordinator (Arizona State, 2 years)
Alma mater: University of New Mexico
Notable players coached: Kelly Stouffer, QB (Colorado State); Deuce McAllister, RB (Ole Miss); Rudi Johnson, RB (Auburn); Ronnie Brown, RB (Auburn); Jason Campbell, QB (Auburn); Cadillac Williams, RB (Auburn); Steven Jackson, RB (Oregon State); Derek Anderson, QB (Oregon State); Philip Rivers, QB (North Carolina State); Jerricho Cotchery, WR (North Carolina State, New York Jets); Laveranues Coles, WR (New York Jets); Brock Osweiler, QB (Arizona State); Cameron Marshall, RB (Arizona State)
Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos
Lou Spanos comes to the Bruins from the NFL after stints on the defensive side of the ball with the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers. Like Mazzone, Spanos and Mora wasted no time with discarding Neuheisel's failed schemes of the past and implementing the more familiar (for Spanos) 3-4 base defense, as evident in changes like Anthony Barr moving to LB, the shuffling of defensive linemen and linebackers to as OLB/ILB and NT/DE, the traditional labels for a 3-4 set. As a coach, Spanos has three Super Bowl rings from his time in Pittsburgh, and he'll be making the jump to defensive coordinator for the first time in his career.
Total years of coaching experience: 17 years, 0 as a defensive coordinator
Coaching resume: Defensive quality control/assistant linebackers coach (Pittsburgh Steelers, 15 years); linebackers coach (Washington Redskins, 2 years)
Alma mater: University of Tulsa
Notable players coached: Kevin Greene, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); Greg Lloyd, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); Levon Kirkland, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); Jason Gildon, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); Joey Porter, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); Kendrell Bell, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); James Farrior, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); James Harrison, LB (Pittsburgh Steelers); London Fletcher, LB (Washington Redskins); Brian Orakpo, LB (Washington Redskins)
Alright folks, that's the opening of our spring football preview, which fortunately, will keep us occupied in the wake of Chianti Dan and Ben Howland's dumpster fire basketball program. Every exciting to see some fresh faces in charge at Spaulding, and tomorrow we'll take a look at the individual position coaches, including some of the key names in landing the big-time recruits that Mora and Co. reeled in late in the recruiting process, followed by our spring football preview, broken down by position groupings.
Fire away with your thoughts, opinions, and feelings in the thread.