How's Mora Doing So Far?

New UCLA head coach Jim Mora is not only talking a good game, he's made some moves in terms of his staff that are distinct departures for UCLA football - and gives UCLA fans some concrete reasons for hope...

Even though UCLA hasn't released an official announcement on the hiring of Noel Mazzone as the new offensive coordinator, it's merely a formality, with Mazzone waiting until after Arizona State's bowl game to make it official. Everything we've heard is that Mazzone is coming to UCLA.

With that addition to Jim Mora's new staff, it's a significant development in UCLA football.

Noel Mazzone is a proven OC, with plenty of experience and success on his resume. UCLA hasn't hired a proven, established college coordinator who just came off a successful season in college football in, well, maybe 16 years? You might have to go back to Al Borges being hired by Bob Toledo, even though Borges wasn't even close to being as proven as Mazzone when Toledo tabbed him in 1996. Norm Chow certainly doesn't count since he hadn't recently been successful in college football (and had just been fired from his NFL job). You might have to go back to Homer Smith when he was hired for his third tour of duty with UCLA in 1990 to equal someone of Mazzone's stature. So, you could make a case it's been 22 years.

It's been mostly a tough run for a long time for UCLA's offense, and for UCLA fans, trying to watch UCLA's offense. Every season, it seems, UCLA is either breaking in a new, inexperienced coordinator, or one who has been in the NFL, or trying out some new scheme, making an old coordinator run a new, unfamiliar scheme, or something along those lines. Never has UCLA had an offensive coordinator running a scheme that he was successful with as recently as the previous season.

It wasn't just that UCLA's offense every year (save one) for the last 13 seasons has been anemic, or that it merely couldn't execute efficiently, but watching it made you wonder exactly what it was trying to execute. Offense after offense, coordinator after coordinator, ran a scheme that left you scratching your head. UCLA fans were told to have faith, that it was a matter of the players understanding the scheme and its intent. But every year it was the same.

UCLA fans thought that UCLA was cursed, specifically when it comes to its offense, and its offensive coaches. It seemed that many coaches would come to UCLA and then, somehow, be hit by this curse and be ineffective. But it's not a curse, unless you want to call UCLA's mindset about who it hired, and how much it could pay its hires, a "curse." You could make the case that it wasn't coincidental, since the hiring of UCLA's football coaches did stem from primarily two things: 1) A UCLA and Terry Donahue connection and 2) being cheap. Of course, that has quite a bit to do with it. But it also is a matter of UCLA suffering from Rick Neuheisel and Karl Dorrell teaming up inadvertently to put together a string of bad coordinator hires, whose offenses tended, coincidentally, to make you feel exactly the same way as you watched them struggle.

We won't even get into Dorrell's hires. Then there's Neuheisel's hire of Norm Chow, which you could say it's difficult to fault. I've said it before myself. Remember, every UCLA fan was ecstatic over it. Most college coaches would have snapped up Chow if they had the chance. Heck, Utah's head coach Kyle Whittingham hired Chow even after he had his pretty well-publicized crash and burn as UCLA's offensive coordinator.

But I have since re-considered my opinion (perhaps benefitting from good hindsight) that Neuheisel isn't at fault for hiring Chow. See, here's the thing: fans aren't the ones hiring offensive coordinators. Even though the fans were overwhelmingly positive about the hiring of Chow, it's not the fans' job to know, really, if the 2008 version of Chow would be a good offensive coordinator. It was Neuheisel's job. There was enough evidence out there for a head coach who's charged with making these decisions to know. There was a thought that Chow had been pretty much forced out of USC, and there was talk that he had been over-the-hill then. There then had to certainly be enough evidence for a connected college coach like Neuheisel to know what went into Chow's NFL flame-out with the Tennessee Titans. But hiring Chow was a big "splash," the kind of big p.r. move that Neuheisel instinctually strives to create.

As one BRO message board poster wrote recently: Neuheisel was more your director of p.r., while Mora, so far, is acting more like a CEO.

Looking back on Neuheisel's tenure at UCLA, his demise will probably be directly linked to his hiring of Chow.

Of course, Mazzone will have to get it done on the field for it to be decisively concluded that the curse is dead. But just the fact that Mora hired him, that in itself, is a change of direction for UCLA.

How refreshing will it be to see an experienced, proven coordinator with the headset on along the sideline (or in the booth), running an offense and calling plays that are proven to be successful, and one that everyone understands?

For UCLA fans, it will be like another team and coordinator had come to the Rose Bowl and were impersonating UCLA wearing those blue and gold uniforms.

So, Mora is, at least initially, showing a mindset and approach that is foreign to UCLA's recent way of doing business in hiring Mazzone. While you might say that Neuheisel or Dorrell might have hired Noel Mazzone or someone like him if they had the chance, the fact is Mora is the one who did. And really, they wouldn't have, because both Dorrell and Neuheisel are guys who fancied themselves offensive experts that wanted to fashion their own style of offense, both of which miserably failed.

For whatever reason, whether it's the fact that Mora isn't connected to UCLA and its "curse," he seems to be doing things a different, non-UCLA way. He has made two very positive decisions: 1) hire a proven college offensive coordinator and 2) find some proven, kick-ass recruiters. No UCLA head coach in recent history has done #1, and they certainly haven't done #2. Again, for whatever reason, and since it seemed to be a similar vibe between the Dorrell and Neuheisel regimes, UCLA hasn't had a good recruiting staff in a very long time, and never since I've been doing this job. It could be that both Dorrell and Neuheisel, first, had a coach-hiring pool made up mostly of friends, and then neither really seemed to put a big priority on finding coaches whose expertise was recruiting. Dorrell had a couple of good recruiters, but it certainly wasn't staff-wide. Neuheisel's staff was, to be candid, not good, made up by quite a few coaches who had lost that recruiting fire. Neuheisel, who is an excellent recruiter, seemed to want to make up for his staff's deficiencies by doing much of the heavy lifting in recruiting himself. Again, not much of a CEO mentality.

Mora, in hiring Adrian Klemm, Steve Broussard and Demetrice Martin, have hired three proven recruiters who specialize in California. This isn't anyone speculating that the coach will be a good recruiter (like with an esteemed colleague's infamous prediction that Dorrell would be an excellent one). These are guys that have already done it, were doing it when UCLA hired them, and have earned reps as successful recruiters, who love to recruit, get fired up about it and take a great deal of pride in it.

There is a fundamental difference with Mora, too, as opposed to UCLA's last three head football coaching hires: Mora is a defensive guy. Fundamentally in all sports it's pretty well-accepted that if you're sound defensively you'll be competitive. It's been proven out with the UCLA football program in the last 13 years. Heck, UCLA football is practically a test case of the theory. UCLA has, in its most recent past, had offensive guys as its head coaches, and they always struggled to nail down the defensive side (they couldn't much nail down the offensive side either). The UCLA program is aching for a new approach – one that, first, emphasizes defense. Mora, as a long-time NFL defensive coach, gives UCLA perhaps a great chance to lock down the defensive side of the ball. His defenses in the NFL were ranked among the best in the league. He is far more qualified as a defensive expert than Neuheisel, Dorrell or even Toledo were qualified as offensive experts. Of course, there is the issue that Mora hasn't ever really coached against college offenses like a spread, but all of his CEO-like decisions since taking the job seem to indicate he'll recognize he needs to bring in coaches who have and are good at it. It would be, at the very least, refreshing, for UCLA to consistently field a solid defense that would make UCLA competitive and, at the most, it very well might be the successful formula UCLA has been missing, to have a defensive expert as your head coach who hires a proven offensive coordinator.

Of course, again, all of this – the hiring of Mazzone and some proven recruiting assistants – doesn't mean it's certain UCLA will be that much better coached. We won't know that until we see the Bruins on the field next fall. And really, if there's anything that has been proven with UCLA football's recent history is that coaching is a very significant determining factor in whether a college team is successful or not. Recruiting is, of course, vastly important, but UCLA in the last 13 years has recruited fairly well, at least good enough to warrant more success on the field than it had.

There are also so many other elements that go into being a good coach – like leadership, discipline, accountability and toughness. It's, of course, a question mark of how well Mora will do on these fronts. So far, he's talking a very good game, like his stance on the infamous Over-the-Wall tradition.

Hiring Mazzone, though, does make you about as confident as you can be that UCLA will be better coached on the offensive side. If Mazzone can't get it done at UCLA, we can probably then put some credence in the curse. And having a proven NFL defensive guru as your head coach also bodes well in terms of a better-coached defense.

And all the new assistants, with their proven recruiting track records, definitely makes you feel that UCLA will be able to recruit with this staff better than any UCLA staff in a long time.

What Mora has done in a week and a half gives you more concrete, logical reasons based on past track records to be optimistic, rather than merely hoping something pans out positively. He accomplished some things in just 10 days that his last two predecessors couldn't do in 10 years. I wrote when Mora was hired, half-jokingly, that his honeymoon was extremely brief, that he had inherited the sins of his predecessors and a disgruntled, impatient fan base, and that he needed to hire a great staff and sign a great recruiting class to just get UCLA fans on board until spring football. Well, it appears he's on his way to accomplishing at least one of those two objectives. And he still has some more coaching hires to go. But his different perspective and approach alone – one that is counter to UCLA's most recent modus operandi -- gives UCLA fans more credible reasons to buy in.

At least until Signing Day.

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