As a recent UCLA alumni, I was invited to a UCLA On the Road event, which featured a panel with former Bruins QB, Matt Stevens, Coach Cori Close, Coach Steve Alford and Coach Jim Mora and decided to check it out with a fellow alumni friend of mine. I figured many of you who have not heard our coaches speak in person, would be interested in my impression of the coaches, their visions for their respective programs and their philosophies.
Coach Cori Close
Our women's basketball program is in very good hands right now. In fact, if Coach was still with us today, I am very willing to bet Dan Guerrero's job that Coach would have approved of her hire and her coaching philosophies. Coach Close was impressive, articulate and knows exactly what she expects out of her team year in and year out - to play together as a team and win the right way instead of focusing on individual performances or accolades. I admit that I did not know much about Coach Close prior to the event but learned that she had previously formed close ties to Coach and UCLA. She was an assistant at UCLA several years ago after setting records at UCSB as a player, and forged a friendship with Coach Wooden, going over to his house frequently to learn from him and chat about life. Coach Close and Coach Mora seem to be close and bounce ideas off of each other.
Coach Jim Mora
The Stanford and Baylor games left a very bad taste in my mouth, and I wasn't Jim L. Mora's biggest proponent (or critic) when he was hired, but after hearing Coach Mora speak, I strongly believe that after years of futility, UCLA finally has a football coach who has a vision and plan. Coach Mora is intense, no-nonsense and old-school, having learned from great football minds such as Bill Walsh, Don James and his father, the original Jim Mora. He loves UCLA as much as you and I do, loves and appreciates his players and does a great job of recruiting Bruins, who understand that with a UCLA degree, there is a bright future outside of football and that even though they are football players, they are student-athletes and ambassadors of UCLA (unlike the mercenaries who go to the other school to commit felonies before flaming out in the NFL). Coach Mora has high expectations for his football program, as he himself declared that last year's 9 win season was not good enough in his eyes and specifically discussed the Cal and Baylor games as signs of lack of mental toughness and opportunities to learn from. He also discussed extensively, the use of drones, helmet cams, piping in crowd noise and Brett Hundley (whom he called a real winner who showed true grit and leadership by refusing to come out of the Holiday Bowl). He praised his coaching staff and players effusively. At the end of his talk, I wanted to strap on a gold helmet, pads and take out a few Trogans.
Coach Steve Alford
Like many of you, I fully expected Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens to be coaching UCLA right now but unfortunately, as you all know we do not have an athletic director or a chancellor capable of luring talented coaches from such perennial powerhouse programs with very deep pockets, such as VCU or Butler. I decided to cast all personal thoughts on Alford's past aside, so I could provide an objective opinion of the man who will be caretaking Coach's program. First, Alford as a person is witty, personable and knows how to work a crowd. With that being said, I was not at all impressed with his coaching vision, philosophies and plan. One could correlate what appeared to be a lack of preparation and wisecracking to his unfamiliarity with UCLA and the UCLA basketball legacy, but if it is truly indicative of how he will run the program, I am truly convinced that UCLA will not win a national championship under his watch and will continue to struggle in the NCAA tournament. After hearing Coach Close and Coach Mora fire up the crowd with their passion, vision and enthusiasm, Alford was pretty underwhelming. As expected, he mentioned Bobby Knight excessively and really milked the whole "I'm from Indiana and played for the Hoosiers. I was kind of a big deal in the 80's. Oh and I hear there's a legendary UCLA coach who's from Indiana too. By the way did you know I played for Bobby Knight?" angle, which I thought was amateurish, especially after hearing Coach Close and Coach Mora defer credit to their staff and players. Of course, this could just be him playing his cards close to his chest, but I'm not entirely sure if Alford is ready for PAC-12 basketball. Time will tell.
There weren't too many young Bruins in attendance besides my friend, myself and a few others. There were a lot of very silly, off-topic questions directed towards the coaches, such as "Coach Mora, are we going to lower admission standards anytime soon?" There were a lot of self-important Bruins out there who felt the burning desire to let the coaches know how much they donate or how long they've been fans for. There was a lot of enthusiasm for Coaches Close and Mora and more curiosity than excitement surrounding Coach Alford.