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UCLA Football: Jim Mora's Staff Doing Less with More

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We are all sitting home tomorrow night watching Arizona, instead of the Bruins in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Is it because we don't have talented players? Not according to the all-conference teams.

part of the solution, or part of the problem?
part of the solution, or part of the problem?
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Last January, I did a post breaking down the Pac-12 all conference team by school, after stripping out players who had played four years or declared for the NFL draft. The goal was to see which teams had the fewest holes to fill coming into the 2014 season.

Here is the article from last January. As you can see, we were at the top of the list with five returnees on offense and seven on defense. $C was next with four on offense and five on defense. Oregon was next with five on offense and three on defense. Arizona was next to last in the Pac-12 South with one on offense and two on defense. So we had every reason to be hopeful that 2014 would be a special season.

In my opinion, the mark of a successful coaching staff is to not only raise the quality level for the individual parts (recruiting and technique coaching), but also to have a system where the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts (schemes, in-game strategy). If a team finishes much higher in the standings than would be implied by the sum of the individual parts, then the coaching staff must be doing something right. And, conversely, if a team does not do as well as would be implied by the sum of the individual parts, then changes would appear to be in order at the coaching staff level.

To try to quantify the sum of the individual parts, I set up the following metric- for each 2014 1st team selection who was not even honorable mention in 2013, +3. For each 2014 1st team selection who was honorable mention in 2013, +2. For each 2014 1st team selection who was 2nd team in 2013, +1. For each 2014 1st team selection who was also 1st team in 2013, -0-. For each 2014 2nd team selection who was not even honorable mention in 2013, +2. For each 2014 2nd team selection who was honorable mention in 2013, +1. For each 2014 2nd team selection who was also 2nd team in 2013, -0-.

Conversely, for each returning 2013 1st team selection who was not even honorable mention in 2014, -3. For each 2013 1st team selection who was honorable mention in 2014, -2. Etc. As one final refinement, if a player was honorable mention in 2013 but not make the grade in 2014, the team was not penalized if another player from the same team was honorable mention in 2014 who had not been honorable mention in 2013 (for example, player A was leading receiver in 2013, made honorable mention, player B did not make honorable mention; player B was leading receiver in 2014, made honorable mention, player A did not make honorable mention- this is a wash, and no deduction)

I had expected, given the disappointing results this season, that the all-conference selections would have a lot of negatives for UCLA. Players who had been honored in 2013 would not be honored in 2014. The sum of the individual parts, in other words, would have gone down versus what we were hoping for in January. The individual player performances would have suffered, which would have led to our not winning the Pac-12 South.

This is not to say that I was blaming the players. Lack of progress (for example, an honorable mention in 2013 not making 1st or 2nd team in 2014) could still be laid at the feet of the coaches, either by not providing the right kind of coaching to improve performance, or by setting up schemes which buried the players.

And here are the scores for each school (in order of the final BN Power Poll) using the above metric-

Oregon  +10 - 1 = 9

Arizona   +4 - 0 = 4

UCLA    +12 - 1 = 11

ASU      +7 - 2 =  5

Stanford  +8 - 1 = 7

$C         + 8 - 1 = 7

Utah      +6 - 1 = 5

Wash    +4 - 1 = 3

OSU     +3 - 3 = 0

Berkeley +0 - 1 = -1

WSU       +0 - 1 = -1

Colorado  +0 - 2 = -2

As you can see, contrary to my expectations, UCLA actually led the conference in terms of individual player recognition, as measured by players improving their standing in the all-conference teams compared to where they were in 2013. Here is the all-conference team for reference.

Let's go through the Bruins one by one to see how the net score of 11 was determined. Brett Hundley moved from honorable mention QB in 2013 to 2nd team in 2014 = +1. Devin Fuller was honorable mention WR in 2013, was not mentioned in 2014, but Jordan Payton was honorable mention in 2014 = 0. Thomas Duarte was honorable mention TE in 2013 and 2014 = 0. Jake Brendel moved from honorable mention OL in 2013 to 2nd team in 2014 = +1. Alex Redmond was honorable mention OL in 2013 and 2014 = 0. Ellis McCarthy was honorable mention DL in 2013, was not mentioned in 2014 = -1. Eddie Vanderdoes was honorable mention DL in 2013 and 2014 = 0. Kenny Clark was 2nd team DL in 2014, after no mention in 2013 = +2. Owa Odighizuwa was 2nd team DL in 2014, after no mention in 2013 = +2. Myles Jack was 2nd team LB in 2013 and 2014 = 0. Eric Kendricks moved from honorable mention LB in 2013 to 2nd team in 2014 = +1. Randall Goforth, honorable mention DB in 2013, was injured and did not repeat in 2014, but Jaleel Wadood was honorable mention in 2014 = 0. Anthony Jefferson moved from honorable mention DB in 2013 to 2nd team in 2014 = +1. Fabian Moreau moved from honorable mention DB in 2013 to 2nd team in 2014 = +1. Ishmael Adams was 1st team DB in 2014 after no mention in 2013 = +3.

Now let's look at Arizona, and see how their net score of 4 was determined. Wade Phillips was honorable mention WR in 2013, was not mentioned in 2014, but Austin Hill was honorable mention in 2014 = 0. Steven Gurrola was 2nd team OL in 2014 after no mention in 2013 = +2. Jared Tevis was honorable mention DB in 2013 and 2014 = 0. Scooby Wright moved from honorable mention LB in 2013 to 1st team in 2014 = +2.

Another slice at this is to strip out expectations from January, and simply look at 2014 selections. As you can see from the all-conference link, UCLA has nine players who were 1st or 2nd team all-conference, while Arizona has two.

There are obviously different ways to measure the quality of the individual parts. But it is hard to argue against the proposition that UCLA had more talent returning from 2013 than Arizona. And it is hard to argue against the proposition that UCLA had more top-level players, as measured by all-conference recognition, than Arizona in 2014.

Ajax posted an article outlining the UCLA snubs in the all-conference teams. There is certainly logic in arguing that the leading rusher should be more than honorable mention, and the Butkus finalist should be more than 2nd team. The snubs, if anything, result in the all-conference selections understating the individual talent at UCLA.

So we have a team, UCLA, with more returning honorees than any other team, and with more individual honor bumps than any other team, which finished 2nd in the division. And we have another team, Arizona, which was tied for 7th in terms of returning honorees in the conference, and which had only two players with individual honor bumps into the 1st or 2nd team in 2014.

Which team do you think was coached by the Pac-12 Coach of the Year? If you said UCLA, with Jim Mora's staff, go to the back of the line. If you said Arizona, with Rich Rodriguez's staff, you are correct.

The goal again is to have the total be greater than the sum of the individual parts. Arizona succeeded. We did not.