Spring Preview: Mora Interview Part 1

Coach Jim Mora talks about how he adjusted to recruiting, what effect he's been able to have on culture change, and the reasoning behind the scheme changes...

Q: How much of a switch has this been, coming from the NFL to college? Is it a fully different atmosphere?

A: Completely different, and really enjoyable. I've never been on a campus before. Obviously, when I went to college, but besides that. And so there's just a completely different energy. In the NFL, you go to a facility. It could be in the middle of an industrial park, or maybe in a beautiful area like we had in Seattle. But, it's all about one thing, and that's just football. When you're on campus, it's just a different energy, and it's really a lot of fun. I know that sounds like maybe a corny word, but it's a lot of fun. Every day is a lot of fun. It's interesting to deal with a different age level. You know, I'm used to dealing with guys who are through this developmental stage. Some are the end of their career, some are at the start of their career, but they're professionals now. Here, it's fun to get this different group, this different age group, and work with them. So it's a lot of fun.

Q: Does it draw on a different skillset than what you used in the NFL, to deal with younger kids? Do you have to use more patience?

A: Yeah, but I enjoy that. That's been one of the most enjoyable things. I really love coaching football. I always have. I love the strategizing. I love the competition. Obviously, there's nothing like standing on the sidelines in front of 70,000 people screaming, and you have to make a decision every thirty seconds. I love competing with the guy across the way, putting the game plan together. All of those things. But one of the most enjoyable parts for me has always been the personal interaction with the players. And at this level, there's a huge amount of personal interaction with these players. You know? They're younger. Some of these guys are 17 or 18 years old. And when there's issues they have in their life, when things come up, it's fun to help them through. It really is. It's enjoyable, and it's fulfilling.

Q: I talked to a fair amount of kids during the recruiting process, and it seemed like they all had a general sense that you dealt with them honestly. Is it weird for you at all that that stood out for these kids, from all the other coaches they've dealt with?

A: I just think that's my personality. I really can tell you this: I would never want to recruit anybody under false pretenses. I think I surprised some of the kids when I wouldn't tell them unequivocally that they were going to come here and be a starter. I would say, "You will have the opportunity to win a starting position, but you will have to earn it." And I had more than a handful of parents tell me, "Thanks," because everyone keeps telling them their kid is going to come in and start right away. And that's not the case. They have to earn that. I don't know. I just believe in honesty. Sometimes that gets you in trouble. Sometimes that's gotten me in trouble. But like they say, I still think it's the best policy.

Q: Was recruiting a big adjustment for you?

A: It was completely different than what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be one thing, and it was much different than what I thought it was. The whole process started for me 15 minutes after my press conference when Pat Girardi handed me a phone and said, "Start making these calls to these people." It was just learning on the go, and I was very fortunate to hire some coaches who understand the process, and could lead me in the right direction. But really, it's not even…you know, they call it recruiting, but really it's just relationship building. It's finding out if you have something in common with the player or the family, it's finding out who the champion is in the family. Who's going to help the kid make the decision. And just seeing if there's a match there. A personality match with a player who can come in and you think can make a great student or make a great football player for you. But, I mean, I had fun. I kind of thought that home visits would be this canned experience where you go in with a presentation, and you make this presentation and then you walk out. And every one morphed into its own deal. It was just fun. It was very educational.

Q: Adrian Klemm, Demetrice Martin, and Eric Yarber are all acknowledged to be some of the best recruiters in the country, and certainly in LA. Is that something you researched before you even got the job?

A: I knew who the good recruiters were. I've been able to watch Demetrice Martin, and obviously get to know him, because we were both in Seattle, so I had a chance to get to know him. Eric Yarber, I've known for almost 30 years. God, it's getting close to 30 years now when we were together in San Diego. And we worked together in 2004 in San Francisco. I've known his personality and I've also known his reputation as a recruiter. Steve Broussard, I've known for a long time. He's a Washington State guy, I'm a Washington guy, so there's a connection there. We're on each other all the time about that still. And Adrian, I knew through his NFL ties. He came through Atlanta on a tryout once when I was the head coach there. So I knew these guys, and I knew they were connected to this city. Which is very very important, because there is so much talent in this area. Not just the city, but the metropolitan, Los Angeles area. And for that matter, in the state of California. So I knew their connections, and knew they were guys that I wanted to hire on my staff. And probably the most revealing day for me was probably the Friday after I got hired. I got hired on Tuesday, and on Friday, Angus McClure and I went up to the Bay Area and did like five home visits. And Angus is our recruiting coordinator. He's very organized, he's very detailed, he's very personable. And to just go with him, he kind of broke me in on going to a school and going to home. And just watching how he interacted and how he had built these relationships with the parents and the kids and the coaches. It was good for me to see.

Q: Gave you an idea of what you were supposed to be doing.

A: Yeah, and right away. And then Adrian Klemm went out for one day trip to Utah, and just the same thing. So I was just really observant of those guys as I went through the process. Even from how they entered the house to where they sat in a room. Just everything, because like you said, they're pros. And I was a rookie. I still am a rookie. I don't think you become a veteran until you go through it a couple of times. I enjoyed it. I like people, I like talking to people. I think we have a really good product here. It's a great university first of all, and I think we're going to do some great things on the football field. You're trying to appeal to these kids while at the same time you're trying to gauge whether they're the right kind of kid to bring into your environment, because we want ultimate competitors in here. So if a guy is trying to shy away from the challenge of trying to make UCLA special, we weren't sure he was going to be a fit. There was a particular kid who we were recruiting, who we got, and I won't tell you who he is, and I asked him why he was favoring school X over UCLA, and his answer was, " Uniforms and the girls." And my response was, "Well, I think it's time for us to leave, because you're not our kind of guy." And I was just being honest with him, "If that's what's important to you, uniforms and girls, then quite frankly you're not the type of player we want at UCLA." And the whole thing changed immediately and he ended up signing with us.

Q: Obviously you're attempting to bring in a certain kind of kid. But in that same vein, when we talked to you in December, you were talking about culture change, after the over the wall junk, and how that needed to happen. How far do you think you've come in that department?

A: I don't know. I think there's positive signs, but I don't think we'll know until we get through a whole year. I think there'll be bumps along the way, and days when you feel really good about it, and days when you go, "God, we're not getting done what we need to get done." It's a process. We have a long ways to go. I really believe that the players want to do it the way we want it done. I really believe they want to be successful, and I think there's a lot of steps we have to take to get where we want to be. But I think we're on the right path.

Q: So you're noticing buy in?

A: Well, I am, but we haven't hit adversity yet. Adversity is going to reveal the true character of who we are. And we haven't had any true adversity yet. It hasn't gotten hard yet. It's going to get hard. And when it gets hard we'll find out who can survive. There's kind of steps, you know? The next step is spring ball. It's not going to be easy. And then there's summer workouts. And then fall camp, whatever you call it. And then games. Guys are going to get punched in the mouth a few times, and we'll see who responds. See who gets back up and who keeps getting back up.

Q: You've got the culture change, obviously, which is probably one of the bigger things that needs to happen here. But you're also introducing some changes, not to get too specific, into the offense and defense. Do you find that it's a lot of change for these kids?

A: You know what, they're football players. It's really kind of verbiage and philosophy. They're running the same routes, and they're playing the same coverages. There might be different emphases within the different coverages, or the different routes, but it's still just football. So there's some change, but it's good. I think the change invigorates them. I think it kind of captivates them, makes them pay attention, because they're not hearing the same old same old. I don't think we're overdoing it. Of course, there's going to be some transition. Like I said, every day is not going to be bright and sunny. There's going to be some tough times. There's a process we have to go through to get where we want to go. And I think that that demands some level of patience, but not too much. And so it's kind of finding out where you're not patient enough and where you're too patient. We've got to push ourselves and push our players. And you talk about culture change, but I don't want to overdo the culture change thing. It's just tweaking things a bit. Maybe get them focused on some things that they lost track of. I see that they appear to be willing to do that. I'm excited about the football team. I'm excited about the players. I'm excited about the way that they have handled the things that we have asked them to do thus far.

Q: Would one of those tweaks be simply practice tempo?

A: Oh, our practices will be fast. And they might not be fast from day one, because they might take a while to learn what we want. And I'm sure I'll walk off the field frustrated after the first day because of the tempo of the practice. Just internally, because I'll want it to be faster, tempo, tempo. But I think once we get into the second week, they'll figure out what we want. And why we want it. I think what players need to understand is not just what we want, but why we want it. And they'll start to see the results, and they'll get excited about it. And it'll manifest itself in even more tempo. But that's, for me, it all goes back to the way Bill Walsh taught practice. In San Francisco, I mean, it was go go go go go go go. And that meshes with what Noel wants to do, which is go go go go go, which meshes with what Lou Spanos wants to do, which is what Pittsburgh did, which is fly to the football. You keep it simple and you go hunting.

Q: Speaking of the defense, do you know yet how the roles will break down on the staff? Are you going to be handling play calling?

A: I don't know. My role so far has been, I'm in the meetings, because we're installing things. It's really interesting because this defense, much of the core of what we're doing defensively is what my dad did in New Orleans. As a matter of fact, the other day, I grabbed a playbook from my storage unit. And it was a 1991 New Orleans Saints defensive playbook and a lot of the verbiage is the same. So a lot of what we've got is a lot of what we did my dad in New Orleans. And with an influx of what Dick Lebeau has done in terms of the pressures. And, you know, just years and years of layers. But I know it pretty well, so Lou and I have a common background, which is good. It's easy for me to be involved and then step away and do the other things you have to do as a head coach, and then step back in and catch up because I'm not having to learn everything. I know it. I'm giving him playbooks that I used to have. I was telling my dad the other day, "Hey, dad, can you draw up Tornado 1?" And he said, "Yeah." And I said, "Well, it's in our playbook." and he said, "You're kidding me."

Q: Not to get too much into what the defense is, but what are the advantage of having the flexibility of putting four linebackers on the field as opposed to three?

A: You know what's interesting is that people make such an emphasis on 3-4 vs. 4-3, but so much of what you do in this conference is sub-stuff, like nickel type packages. Because people go up in multiple receiver groupings. I would say in general, in this conference, one of the advantages is having more speed on the field. It's four guys standing up, as opposed to four guys with their hands in the dirt. So I think it gives you more flexibility in your pressure schemes. They have to figure out offensively who you're fourth or fifth or sixth rusher is going to be, and not just sitting there in a three point stance. When teams start to spread it out, you've got different types of athletes on the field, more speed type guys on the field. I think that so many teams in college huddle on the sidelines, run out, and get set, and they go. Theoretically when you're playing with a 3-4 type configuration, you can just run your base group out there and you've got guys who can work in space. So you've got flexibility. But much of what we'll do is four down stuff. I mean, people say, "Well you're a 3-4 defense." And it's like, yeah, we are- on first down. But there's 2nd and 3rd down too, and then you become a 4 down defense. It's also interesting in recruiting, how people paint that. And kids sometimes will buy into it. I can tell you this. I coached in the NFL for 25 years, and we never drafted a player, or didn't draft a player, because of the system he came out of. And yet in the recruiting battles you'll hear people say, "You don't want to go there if you want to go to the pros, because the system isn't going to get you pro ready." And that's a great thing for me to hear because I'll say, "I can tell you this, young man, I've been in 25 drafts. And never one time has a system come up. If a system was the reason for a kid getting drafted or not drafted, then Cam Newton wouldn't have been the first pick in the draft. And what was the receiver out of Texas Tech? Michael Crabtree would not have been a first round pick. So don't believe the hype that these guys that don't know are telling you about system. System doesn't matter in recruiting. And it doesn't matter in the draft." [Laughs] I guess that's part of my honesty. It's the truth.

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