First, let me get something out of the way. It's no secret that yours truly and rest of the frontpagers were not fans of the hiring of Jim Mora. We had number of reasons, ranging from a terrible hiring process conducted by an incompetent AD (who remains incompetent) to bringing in a .500 career NFL coach, who didn't have the college experience we were looking for in our new coach.
Funny thing here is when Mora to UCLA possibility first came up in 2007, I wasn't as dismissive of it as I was last year. The atmosphere around the UCLA athletics department had become so toxic thanks to the total mismanagement of Dan Guerrero and his cronies that it was hard to get excited about Mora. And, we weren't the only one. College football analysts around the country including guys like Stewart Mandel never thought much of the hire.
Since he has come aboard Coach Mora has overwhelming made all the right moves both on and off the field. I admit I was wrong because I didn't think Mora would be a good recruiter in the college world. I didn't see a straight shooting version of Pete Carroll in him because he didn't have Carroll's college experience before taking over in Westwood.
But he clearly came in with a plan of hiring the right people, setting the right mindset, and getting the job done in recruiting. As for on the field performance, we were clear about where we are in terms of expectations, and he has now met all of them, setting UCLA up for our most special season since 1997.
That said, I am still jittery about getting emotionally invested in a head coach because the memories of what transpired with Bob Toledo, who could do no wrong during our magical 20 game winning streak, and with Ben Howland, when he was rocking out with "Ben Ball" during the 3 Final-4 runs. Mora is off to a fantastic start. He deserves to be serenaded after pulling off the best start as a new head coach in the history of UCLA football. I doubt it matters whether we are fully invested in him, but what we do hope is what we have experienced this season and up to Saturday, is just the beginning.
Going back to yesterday, there were couple of instances that I think are worth special mentions because I think they more than anything indicate perhaps Mora is not going to be the "conservative" head coach we were all dreading when a former NFL head coach took over. Those concerns crept up again following the losses against Oregon State and Cal - when we saw Mora going for FGs, when going for it perhaps would have more sense. Let's go over couple of them:
- Going for it on 4th and 14 from Southern Cal's 30 yard line in Q1: I will remember this as one more legendary coaching moves in the history of UCLA major athletic programs ever since I started following the Bruins. A classic UCLA/Donahue coach would obviously would have gone for the 47 yard FG (even with a freshman kicker). I think majority of college coaches (the average to good ones) would make the same decision as well. But Mora went for it and sent a signal to the other side and our team that this game was going to be different. Those are the kind of seminal moments when the phrase "culture change" transforms from cheap PR rhetoric to glorious reality. I sure hope that's the Mora we are going to see from here on out.
- UCLA's offensive coaches after Trojans closed within 28-31 with 7:22 left in the game: What would we have seen in the days of Donahue, Dorrell, Neuheisel and even Toledo. What else besides RRP? Right. Instead (credit to Noel Mazzone) Bruins came out and attacked the Trojan defense by going to Shaq Evans (who had the game of his life) from our 17 yard line. Brett Hundley's completion to Evans on the very first play of that series went for about 18 yards, and it immediately set the tone of that drive, which ended up with the game clinching TD from the Jet Ski. Perhaps the biggest play of that drive was the grab Joe Fauria (who also had the game of his life --- a common theme yesterday for the boys in Blue) on 3rd and 13 which kept the drive alive and got the Bruins to the Trojans 32 yard line. Again, the whole drive had the Bruins attacking and the Trojans on their heels. It was beautiful to watch.
Now where do we go from here? gbruin set the tone for it this am.
Mora has met all the expectations for this season. It's done. That said, we believe Mora and our team know they have an opportunity to do something very special in next three games (I am including the Bowl game).
Not sure if anyone is going to give us a chance against Stanford and the following game. That is fine with us. We actually kind of like it. Bruins have nothing to lose at this point from here on out. That should make Coach Mora and his staff even more dangerous --- to rest of the conference.
Think BIG everyone. THINK BIG.