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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Who Should Replace Jim Mora as the Head Coach of UCLA Football?

With a UCLA team which is 4-4 and has just 4 tough games left, the odds that the team finishes with 6 wins are diminishing rapidly, which leads us to the obvious question.

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NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest. The UCLA Bruins looked about as bad as they ever have under Jim Mora in yesterday’s loss to the Washington Huskies.

As I wrote in our postgame article, there really weren’t any bright spots for the team to build on. The team is now 4-4 with games remaining against Utah, Arizona State, Southern Cal and UC Berkeley. Sure, there’s a chance the team could win all four games, but it’s a lot more likely that the team will lose all four.

Based on the team’s current trajectory, it’s reasonable to assume that this team will finish the season below .500 and that’s said without knowing the extent of Josh Rosen’s injury or injuries.

Assuming that’s likely to happen, it’s worth starting a discussion that we here at Bruins Nation have avoided for the most part until now.

But, it’s a question worth asking because it’s a question that Dan Guerrero should be trying to answer too: Who should replace Jim Mora as the next head coach of UCLA Football?

“But, wait...I thought USA Today reported this past week that Mora’s buyout is $12,275,000?” you ask. Well, that’s true. USA Today released its annual list of NCAA Head Coaches salaries and school buyouts this past week and they did report that Mora’s buyout is $12 million plus.

But, USA Today’s number are off a little. Let’s look at Jim Mora’s contract.

Currently, there are four years remaining on his contract after this season. Per Amendment 2 of his contract, Mora will be paid $3.65M for the 2018 season and $3.75M for 2019. His 2016 contract extension (aka Amendment 3) provides that he will be paid $3.75M per year in 2020 and 2021 also. That’s a total of $14.9M.

However, UCLA is not on the hook for all of that money because the buyout was changed in Mora’s 2016 contract extension. Section V of Amendment 3 replaces all of the previous information regarding Termination Without Cause with language that requires Mora be paid 80% of his remaining base salary and talent fee, which is $11.92M. So, USA Today’s number are a little bit high but not by much.

That said, when compared with the buyouts at other schools, Mora’s buyout looks like a bargain.

The reality of the college football landscape is that, right now, Mora’s buyout is in the middle of the pack for Power 5 schools. Of 50 Power 5 coaches listed in the salary data, Mora’s buyout (as corrected above) is 23rd.

But the even bigger question is: “Can UCLA afford to keep Jim Mora as head coach?”

That’s because attendance has fallen so dramatically as the Mora era has continued. The average attendance per game under Mora peaked in his third season when it was 76,650. After four home games this season, the average attendance is just over 58,000 per game. That’s a 24.3% drop since 2014.

That’s a huge drop.

How big is it exactly? It’s a bigger attendance drop than what UCLA experienced in Rick Neuheisel’s fourth and final season. That year, attendance average 56,645 per game which was a 22% decrease over Rick’s high attendance, 72,795 in 2008.

Of course, we all know what happened at the end of 2011.

So, that brings me back to the question: Who should replace Jim Mora?

Let’s look at some choices while also ruling some potential head coaches out.

Potential Replacements for Jim Mora

1. Chip Kelly

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Kansas State Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Current job:

ESPN Analyst

Why he deserves the job:

We might as well start with the 300 lb. gorilla in the room. If Chip Kelly decides to pursue the job, Dan Guerrero will probably give it to him. That’s based largely on Kelly’s success as head coach at Oregon.

In four seasons with the Ducks, Kelly lost just seven games.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:

But, you also need to know that when Chip Kelly left Oregon, the Ducks were put on NCAA probation due to infractions while Kelly was head coach and Kelly was issued an 18-month “Show Cause” order which has expired, but raises enough questions that Dan Guerrero should move on to another option.

2. Dino Babers

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Head Coach at Syracuse

Why he deserves the job:
Dino Babers has earned the right to interview for the UCLA job by doing things the right way. After serving as an assistant coach at UCLA during the Dorrell years, Babers took over an Eastern Illinois team that went 2-9 the year before he got there and immediately improved the Panthers to 7-5 in his first season. In his second season at Eastern Illinois, the team improved to 12-2 and made it to the FCS Quarterfinals.

He then took over a Bowling Green team which was 10-4 under Dave Clawson the season before Babers arrived and he led them to an 8-6 season but followed that up with a 10-2 season before being hired by Syracuse.

The Orange were 4-8 under Scott Shafer in 2015. In Babers’ first year at Syracuse, the Orange matched their win total under Shafer. So far this year, Babers has won four and lost four.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:
It’s questionable whether Babers is as good turning a program around as other potential candidates. Yes, he did a good job with Eastern Illinois, but, at Bowling Green, the team regressed in his first season and, at Syracuse, the team has yet to show much improvement in terms of wins and losses.

3. Scott Frost

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Head Coach at University of Central Florida

Why he deserves the job:

Frost made a name for himself as the offensive coordinator at Oregon. Upon taking over at the University of Central Florida, Frost won 6 games which is 6 more than they won the previous season.

So far this year, his team is already 7-0 and the Knights could very well be on their way to a New Year’s Six Bowl game, which is better than anything Mora has accomplished in six years in Westwood.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:

Frost still only has 1+ year of head coaching experience and UCLA should favor someone with a longer track record of winning. He is considered a leading candidate to replace Mike Riley at Nebraska.

4. Mike Norvell

NCAA Football: Navy at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Head Coach at Memphis

Why he deserves the job:
Let’s start with the fact that Norvell beat Mora with a team that has less talent than UCLA. Under Norvell, Memphis had one fewer win last season than they did the year before under Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente, but, this year, the Tigers are 7-1 and fighting for that New Year’s Six bowl spot.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:

Norvell still only has 1+ year of head coaching experience and UCLA should favor someone with a longer track record of winning.

5. Ken Niumatalolo

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Head Coach at U.S. Naval Academy

Why he deserves the job:

Over the years, the football teams at the service academies have turned from powerhouses into doormats. Niumatalolo has led a resurgence at the Naval Academy. Despite what can only be called, a lack of top talent, Niumatalolo has finished under .500 only once in his ten full seasons (including this season) since becoming the head coach at Navy.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:

The triple-option flexbone isn’t a practical offense for a Pac-12 team, but if Niumatalolo is willing to run a modern offense, he deserves a look as long as Dan Guerrero doesn’t force him to retain Jedd Fisch like he made Neuheisel keep Dwayne Walker.

6. Matt Campbell

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Head coach at Iowa State

Why he deserves the job:

Campbell helped build up the program at Toledo before moving on to Iowa State. At Iowa State, he has turned around the program in just his second season. He earned a signature win this weekend when the Cyclones defeated #4 TCU.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:

Will he want to make a move to the West Coast after just two seasons at Iowa State?

7. Jason Candle

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Head coach at Toledo

Why he deserves the job:

Candle replaced Campbell at Toledo when the latter left for Iowa State. He has maintained a good program with the Rockets. He played on two Division III national championship teams at Mount Union.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:

He is only in his second full season as a head coach.

8. Kyle Whittingham

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Head coach at Utah

Why he deserves consideration:

Whittingham has consistently done more with less at Utah. His track record is excellent considering the talent level he’s had at Utah. If you can match his coaching with the natural advantages UCLA has with respect to talent, it has the potential to be special.

Why UCLA should look elsewhere:

He’s already being paid about the same as Jim Mora now and he may not want to make a move from Utah to Westwood for similar pay.

Coordinators Worthy of Consideration

Generally speaking, UCLA should not hire someone who has not been a head coach elsewhere first. But, in some cases, there may be a coordinator worth considering. These are a few.

1. Dave Aranda

NCAA Football: Louisiana State Spring Game Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Defensive Coordinator at LSU

Why he deserves consideration:

Aranda has been a successful defensive coordinator at five different schools including Wisconsin and LSU. He has improved the defense whereever he’s gone. He’s a guy who grew up in Southern California and graduated from Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks where he was the roommate of Texas coach Tom Herman.

2. Beau Baldwin

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Current job:

Offensive Coordinator at UC Berkeley

Why he deserves consideration:

Justin Wilcox was smart to bring Baldwin on as UC Berkeley’s offensive coordinator this year. Baldwin took over Eastern Washington in 2008 after the team had been in the FCS Quarterfinals in 2007. In just his third season, he won an FCS National Championship as the head coach of Eastern Washington in 2010. Baldwin had the Eagles in the FCS Semifinals 3 of his last 5 seasons and in the FCS Playoffs 4 of his final 5 seasons.

3. Pete Kwiatkowski

Current job:

Defensive Coordinator at Washington

Why he deserves consideration:

Kwiatkowski’s defense at Washington is impressive. All you need to know about their defense is that they shut down UCLA’s offense better than any other team this year. They held Josh Rosen to under 100 yards passing before he left yesterday’s game in the third quarter. That earns him consideration, but like most of the other coordinators on this list, he’s never been a head coach before.

4. Jedd Fisch

Joe Piechowski

Current job:

Offensive Coordinator at UCLA

Why he deserves consideration:

Fisch’s work with the UCLA offense this season has been impressive enough to merit an interview for the head coaching job when Jim Mora is fired. If the UCLA defense had the same attention to detail that Fisch has stressed to the offensive side of the ball, the team would be much better. If UCLA doesn’t hire Fisch, somebody else is going to, but we would prefer to see Fisch remain OC with a defensive minded head coach like Dave Aranda.

Coaches Who Should Not Be Considered

In general, UCLA needs to avoid coaching retreads.

The first guy on this list is Mike Riley. Riley’s name will undoubtedly come up when he gets fired from Nebraska, but given the job he’s done just about everywhere he’s been, Riley’s name should not come up at all.

Bob Stoops is another name which should not come up. Make no mistake. Stoops is a great coach when it comes to X’s and O’s, but Stoops is disqualified from consideration due to his handling of Joe Mixon’s assault case.

Art Briles is another guy who cannot receive any consideration. One revenue sport coach who supports players accused of rape at UCLA is already one too many.

Chip Kelly’s name belongs on the Coaches Who Should Not Be Considered list due to his recruiting violations at Oregon, but those will likely be ignored. Kelly’s name also belongs on this list for another reason. He was incapable of turning things around at either of his last two jobs. While the NFL is a completely animal than college football, it’s worth noting that he was terrible with the Niners and Eagles.

Jeff Tedford also deserves no consideration. Tedford is currently leading a resurgence of Fresno State’s program in the Mountain West, but Tedford’s track record at UC Berkeley speaks for itselfs. No on Tedford.

In Conclusion

By now, I hope you’ve noticed a trend here. The trend is simple: UCLA needs to be considering young, up-and-coming coaches who, ideally, have a proven track record of turning programs around. While it’s ok to consider a rising coordinator for the job, having that track record really is preferred.

None of the potential replacements have mixed coaching records like Jim Mora had before coming to UCLA and none of them are completely lacking in experience they way Karl Dorrell was before coming to Westwood and none of them are attached to any kind of scandal the way that Steve Alford was before he was hired.

What coaches do you think merit consideration when Jim Mora is fired? Add them to the comments below.

Go Bruins.