Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
In a gag-me-with-a-spoon move coming from two time zones away, ESPN’s Adam Rittenburg dished up an unappetizing morsel about the professionalism of Jim Mora and the UCLA football program. Mora, it seems, runs his organization like an NFL team.
Since Rittenburg went to Northwestern and is currently rumored to be living just outside Chicago, he is a good candidate for being spoon-fed what appears to be a promo piece for the temper brewin’ Bruin. But those of us living in the One True Time Zone know better. Jim Mora’s professional approach to football is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.
1. The guy never stood a chance. Let’s get straight to the impossible-to-overcome issue, which is Mora’s sensitive formative years as a player and then as a coach. Bottom line: The guy is a Husky. He played under Don James from 1980 through 1983 and got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under James in 1984.
Let’s just hope that when Mora talks about running his UCLA program in the NFL way, he doesn’t take it as far as James did. While James won recognition for National Coach of the Year in 1977, 1984 and 1991, he was compelled to resign after the 1992 season. It turned out that the program was just a little “too professional” — boosters providing “jobs” for players but not requiring them to work, some instances where recruiting funds went to players and recruits … that sort of thing.
What’s bizarre is that — even after 11 straight beat downs — Washington fans still brag about their semi-quasi national football championship in 1991 and conveniently forget that they sort of cheated to get it. But that’s an issue for another day.
2. Jim Mora, NFL Coach. Rittenburg’s novel — excuse me, article — states, “His NFL roots shape the college program he oversees.”
Uh — okay, let’s take a look at Mora’s NFL coaching career. His overall record as an NFL head coach was 32-34. He had one winning season with the Atlanta Falcons — his first, when he was playing with someone else’s money.
Mora followed that season up by going 8-8, and then 7-9 the following year. Apparently not interested in sticking with the inevitable 6-10 that would have been the natural mathematical progression for the next year, the Falcons fired him.
After Mora’s two-year stint as a “broadcaster” — which is coach-speak meaning either unemployed or retired (and he was too young to retire) — the Seattle Seahawks latched on to the former Dog in 2009. But as it happened, the Seahawks had higher aspirations than the 5-11 season that he delivered, so it was back to being a “broadcaster” for Mora. Two years passed, and then finally, UCLA came knocking …
3. UCLA’s Professionally-Run Organization. To find someone to write glowing comments about Jim Mora’s professional way of doing things, UCLA obviously had to go farther east than Kansas, which sort of explains the Rittenburg/Chicago connection.
Why not Kansas? In last year’s Alamo Bowl against Kansas State, UCLA squandered a 31-6 halftime lead, but held on to win, 40-35. On the post-game handshake, Mora snubbed Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, arguably one of the most respected coaches in the game.
Mr. Principles-R-Us was apparently upset that a KSU player bolted through the line and hit UCLA QB Brett Hundley as he was taking a knee on the game’s final play.
Never mind that UCLA was penalized 15 times for 128 yards in the game. That’s bad enough and only gets worse when you consider that it wasn’t even Pac-12 refs. But you do the math. The penalties were obviously not all five-yarders, with 53 yards to spare.
Throw in the cheap shots that Mora’s players have taken at opponents such as this Eddie Vanderdoes number on Jake Fisher and you come to the conclusion that Mora’s ethics are more situational than professional.
To Mora’s credit, his teams have gone 10-3 each of the past two seasons, which is not bad. But he has yet to coach a win over a top 10 team, and last year he had narrow misses while winning against Colorado (overtime) and California (by two points). Then with the Pac-12 South on the line, the Bruins choked against a Stanford team having an off year. And they choked ugly, 31-10. Even the Heimlich Maneuver wouldn’t have saved them.
True to his Husky roots — and his professional experience in the NFL — Mora has brought a penchant for losing to the Westwood campus, at least when it comes to games against Oregon.
But if all of this isn’t enough to convince you of the professionalism that Mora brings to the UCLA campus, here’s a tantalizing cut of him — perhaps inspired by Jameis Winston? — professionally dropping the f-bomb in front of students at a pep rally that was canceled due to tuition hike protests:
In each of Mora’s three years at UCLA, the Bruins have gone 6 – 3 in conference play — good, but not going anywhere. It’s certainly not deserving of the rave reviews coming out of Chicago, especially considering that this has been during a time when USC was down due to NCAA sanctions. With the sanctions now over, Mora can only thank his lucky stars that USC had the foresight to hire Steve Sarkisian away from the Huskies.
With two former Huskies in place in the epicenter of the fertile West Coast football recruiting grounds, it will be an interesting contest to see who is more successful at snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. It could be a long time before the Pac-12 Championship trophy ever smells the smog of Southern California again. In the mean time, the situation in Los Angeles remains just Ducky.
Top photo from video