VIDEO: Mora at Holiday Bowl PC

UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora took questions at the Holiday Bowl press conference Wednesday, talking about the match-up with the Baylor Bears...


JM: Hello, it's been a great week here (or part of the week here) for our kids and our families and our staff. The Holiday Bowl committee has just done a tremendous job. Everything has been first class. Every need has been taken care of. Everything has been run smoothly. And I can't think of a bowl that would be more accommodating than this bowl here. The city has rolled out the red carpet for our kids. And they've had a great time. I think they had a tremendous mixture of work and fun and camaraderie. And getting out to the USS Boxer was a highlight. It's amazing. You wouldn't think that 20 year old kids or 22 year old kids would enjoy the zoo and Sea World as much as they did, but I think they embraced that everything that the Holiday Bowl had to offer this week. And so it's just been a great time.

Now we're into game mode. We just had our final walkthrough. We move over to Qualcomm [Stadium] this afternoon [12-26-12] like we typically do the day before a game and just a get a feeling for the surroundings, the locker rooms. Follow the way we'll walk out to the field tomorrow before the game and then we're in our typical last 38 or 36 hour routine.

We've got a tremendous opponent tomorrow night, in Baylor. We all know about their offense. They're as good as there is in the country at moving the ball and scoring points. They have a tremendous running back, outstanding quarterback, great group of receivers, and we'll have our hands full on defense. Offensively, it'll be exciting to go up against this team. See if we can stay up with them a little bit. But I think it'll be a great game. It'll be an exciting game. It'll be a hard-fought game. I think these 2 teams have a lot of respect for each other. We've gotten a chance to mingle with their players, their coaches. They're a quality group of people. I just look forward to a really exciting game tomorrow night.

So with that, I'll take any questions.

Q: Jim, with everybody predicting a shootout, how does that kind of affect the defensive guys?

JM: well, it challenges them. If people predict a shootout and the head coach is standing up here talking about a shootout, if you're a defensive guy, you blow up a little bit. I think that's a good thing. We've played teams that are similar in style to Baylor and the 2 that we played that are most similar are Houston and Arizona, and our defensive guys have come out and played well. But every game is a different story, and this is a tremendous team so I think this is going to be a lot of fun. We'll compete to the end, and they'll compete to the end and somebody is going to win. It'll be a great night to be at Qualcomm watching football or tuning into ESPN and watching football because you're going to see some quality football and some exciting football.

Q: Coach, you just mentioned how you guys have done pretty well against spread offenses (Arizona, Houston, those kinds of teams), does that sort of give your defense a lot more confidence going into this? Knowing that they can contain… I mean, you guys held Arizona to 10 points.

JM: well, I think it does, going in. But every game is its own entity. You still have to go out and perform well. I think what gives a team confidence is the preparation that they do for a game each week. I think that we've had an outstanding… really 2 weeks of preparation. We've focused on Baylor for the last 2 weeks. But still, Baylor's done the same thing. And they've got an offense that goes hard and scores a lot of points so they have a lot of confidence as well. I think it always comes down to a couple of things: #1, Your mindset going into a football game. Are you mentally prepared to compete until the very end? #2, have you prepared? #3, you go out and you execute. It always comes down executing and tomorrow night will be no different.

Q: Coach [Art] Riles [Baylor head coach] said the first thing he noticed about your team is that they were disciplined. Is that something that you… is that a goal that you set out to have for this team? That you wanted people to be able to say that?

JM: we want people to think that we play hard. We play with passion. We play with discipline. And we fight until the end. So yeah, absolutely. That's a very nice compliment.

Q: Coach, when you look at Baylor on film, what have you noticed that impressed you the most with this team?

JM: well, there's a lot of things. #1, the thing that stands out over everything is the way they move the ball and score points. The quality that they have at running back, quarterback, and receiver. Their ability to operate in space and make plays down the field. And they played some… the other thing that impressed me about them is the quality of opponent that they've faced. In that conference, you play great teams every week. So you learn how to compete with the best. And that stands out. That's a team that plays until the very end.

Q: Coach, coming off the PAC-12 championship, how long did it take you to kind of refocus and get excited about the bowl game?

JM: it took us about a week. They were obviously distraught that we lost. Our goal was to win the PAC-12 championship. But being able to come and spend a week in San Diego and play a quality opponent like Baylor and a great game like the Holiday Bowl, has helped us as an organization, as a team, as a university to get over that disappoint. I really felt like we came back for our first real practice which was on a Saturday, I believe a week after the game, that they were back. They were fired up. They were excited about the next challenge. Every indication so far has been that they are really excited to play this game.

Q: in retrospect, seeing the way the team has developed over the season, going back to those days in August, those 12 days at Cal, State San Bernadino, what did that mean for this group and for the way that discipline and that bonding developed?

JM: those days at San Bernadino created the team that you see today. That's the foundation for all that we've become. Certainly there's other things along the way that contributed. Before and after. But those 12 days were a time we really came together as a team. We learned how to overcome discomfort and adversity. We learned how to depend on each other and trust each other. We learned that it wasn't always going to be smooth sailing and that if we stuck together and we trusted the guy next to us and if we kept our head down and grinding, that we'd have some success. And our guys refer back to those days quite often. They draw on that quite often. When things aren't going good, they say, "man, remember those 12 days that we put in…" When things are going well, you say, "Let's remember those 12 days back in San Bernadino. How tough it was. Let's keep going." We'll go back. We're going back to San Bernadino. That'll be something that I'll probably have us do every single year. I think it was just a tremendous experience for our football team.

Q: Coach, why do you feel like [Brett] Hundley has been able to play so well as a redshirt freshman?

JM: well, I think a number of things. I think, first of all, he was able to spend a year last year with Rick Neuheisel. He's a tremendous quarterback coach. So the groundwork was laid. The fundamentals of footwork, the mechanics [of throwing]. He had those things but Rick did a tremendous job of… right when he got to college, he helped him. And then he was fortunate this year to get with Noel Mazzone [Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks] who's an outstanding quarterback coach as well. But all those things being said, it really boils down to Brett. Brett's work ethic. Brett's attention to detail. Brett's approach to becoming a great football player. Never taking a day for granted. Always trying to maximize every minute of every day in terms of his football ability. The guy's got tremendous poise. He's big and physical and fast. He's got a great [throwing] motion. Through the course of the last 13 games, he's become a very good decision-maker. He throws the ball with accuracy. He has the ability, like all great quarterbacks do, to compartmentalize. To take a good play and put it behind him. To take a negative play and put it behind him. And to keep moving forward. It's really fun to see what he's become this year, and it's exciting to think what he's going to become the next 3 years at UCLA.

Thanks very much.

Part 2:

Q: Christmas, there was a talent show, right?

JM: we had a family dinner. It was wonderful. All of our players' and staff's families were there. We had a talent show. We had Santa Claus. Guys had to sit on Santa's lap and take a picture to get their bowl gifts. And I think that everyone really enjoyed it. We had a great slideshow that was a tribute to our seniors, and if you can't have Christmas at home, this is a great way to spend it with family and friends here in San Diego.

Q: who dressed as Santa?

JM: it was actually Santa. He came down from the North Pole.

Q: Coach, Anthony Barr… can you just talk about what he's meant to your defense?

JM: gosh, darn. Where do I start? First of all, what he's been able to accomplish in less than a year at that position is amazing. But he puts constant pressure on the quarterback. I think he leads the country with 13 1/2 sacks. He's very good against the run which is overshadowed by the fact that he's such a good pass rusher. But he's a guy that I think our opponents always have to be aware of, and so that can open some things up for other people. Beyond that, it's his work ethic. He's a great teammate. Great team member. He's a winner, and he's great to have around. I'm excited to think that he'll be here for another year.

Q: when you're in shootout-type situations, what do you tell the defense? To keep up? To keep them going? To try to get that one important stop?

JM: we've only been in one shootout this year and that was the Arizona State game. I think it's just like any game. You just have to focus on the next play. You just have to go out and play one play at a time. I think if you let it get away from you by thinking too far down the line, or thinking about what happened in the past, I think you inhibit your ability to make good plays in the moment. So we always talk about just playing in the moment. Play the play that you're playing as well as you can play it. Go back to the huddle.. although we don't huddle against this team… and play the next play.

Q: how has the coaching staff come along, scheming against a spread like this? How is it from the beginning until now?

JM: it was good. I think it's really helped us to have the extra time. To really look at their game. And come up with some things that we think will help us against what they do schematically. But it's still about going out and executing. And it's still about, as the game progresses, being able to make those subtle adjustments that'll help you have success. Because as much as we've prepared for them, they've prepared for us. They've been able to diagnose what we do. I'm sure they have a really good handle on our tendencies. So have to be able to execute and then adjust throughout the game.

Q: what do you think the key factor was in terms of this team being so disciplined? Was it San Bernardino? Was it something this season?

JM: I think it's the demands we put on them. Everything we do, as I came in, I talked about toughness, discipline, and accountability. Doesn't mean we are a disciplined football team. Now, there'll be people that certainly argue that, given the fact that we led the nation in penalties. Now, some of those penalties are discipline penalties but some of those are just because we play hard. And we play violent and we play through the echo of the whistle. And some of them are horrible calls. As we all know. The PAC-12 has a little reputation for being a little bit over the top with throwing the flag. But we just demand discipline. We demand accountability. I think discipline means… that doesn't mean you're disciplining people. It means you don't have to because they're doing it the right way.

Q: is that the main part of the culture/change you talked about when you talked about…

JM: like I said, to us it was about 3 things that we wanted to incorporate. It wasn't change. It was about creating a culture of toughness, discipline, and accountability. And I think we've been able to do that to a certain extent. Now, the challenge is to continue to do it. Not take the pedal off the metal. As a matter of fact, press them harder. We want to hold them to standards that are more demanding than any program in the country. That's our goal all the time. And our kids have responded very well to it.

Q: Coach, is there any thought of stepping it up a notch beyond San Bernardino? Going out some place even tougher?

Q: Like Mojave? Barstow?

JM: No, Tracy. The reason we went to San Bernardino wasn't primarily because of the heat. It was because it was an environment that was isolated from distractions. And it was an environment that had everything that we needed, from the fields, to the dining facility, to the meeting facilities, to the dorm rooms. I mean, they've got a great setup out there. So being isolated, being together, and then the heat was an added bonus. Creating discomfort, making guys push through things they don't really believe they can push through, taking them to a new level… those are all the things that you have to teach these kids. They're still young men. They're still developing. They still think that they have limits and we have to push them beyond those limits. So the heat and the tempos of our practice… that certainly helps.

Q: is it fair to say that you got more whining from the beat writers than the players?

JM: I would say that I think our beat writers were a tremendous crew. They were out there every day. They didn't bitch.

Q: not to you maybe.

JM: they didn't… I didn't see them coming out of the shade too often, but they were out there every day. I was impressed. I thought maybe they'd wither away and kind of be in last man standing…

Q: soft LA and Orange County guys.

JM: you can't UCLA beat writers or players soft any more. That's over.

Q: Coach, [Johnathan] Franklin… he's just a real workhorse.

JM: he is. First of all, he's a great kid. He's a great example of what we want UCLA to represent. When your best player is your hardest worker, it's really tough for anybody on the team to complain about anything. And when your best player embraces everything that you ask of your team, it's hard for anybody to gripe. And that's what Johnathan does for us. He's just a great example. He's a super player too. Super player.

Q: Coach, not to keep harping on San Bernardino, but there were a lot of injuries there, and then it felt like you guys have been shockingly healthy this entire year at major positions. Is that something that you felt like from San Bernardino carried over? Or just training staff?

JM: first of all, you have to go right back to Coach Sal Alosi [Strength & Conditioning Coordinator]. I think the impact that he's had on these players, their health, their fitness, the way they eat, the way they train, the way they recover… all those things, I think it goes right back to Sal Alosi. I've said it when I was hired. He's the best in the business. I think this year's proven, with what he's been able to do with the members of our team. Really, it hadn't even been 10 months since he's been with them. It's been amazing. So I can imagine what it's going to be like in the future when he gets his hands on these guys for 4 years. It's going to be tremendous. I think we've got a great training staff. I think they do a tremendous job with these kids. They understand how to get them back on the field, safe, but in a matter of time that helps them contribute. And I think injuries are a lot of times a function of luck. But I also don't want to lose track of the fact that we've lost Patrick Larrimore. We've lost Damien Thigpen for most of the year. We've lost Greg Capella. We lost a lot of guys. I think the fact that you're saying that injuries haven't been a big deal is a tribute to the guys that have stepped into those roles and taken over.

Q: what's the bowl week been like? You've spent so much time in the NFL and now going through this here?

JM: it's been great. Like I said, the Holiday Bowl committee's been amazing. And the events have been so well organized. And it's been fun for the kids. And it's been fun for the families. And I've enjoyed it. When I was a kid, my dad coached college football. I went to bowl games most every year so it's kind of taken me back to that a little bit. It's been fun having my kids around, going to practice. And spending a lot of quality time with our families and our kids' families.

Q: Jim, I know you played some good teams late in the season, but you also gave up at least 27 points in each of the last 4 games, how big of a concern is that going against a team like Baylor?

JM: I don't think that I'm concerned about what happened in the last couple of games, but I'm concerned about Baylor certainly. They put up points at a very fast pace. But the team that we're playing tomorrow night is extremely, vastly different than USC and the last 2 games we played against Stanford. Those were more traditional type offenses. At least in my world. I guess in the college world, they're not traditional anymore. I guess Baylor is more "traditional" in the college world. But I think each game, like I said, is its own entity. We just have to go out and play well.

Q: Coach, to change subjects just a little bit. San Diego Chargers here in town are going through some possible changes, do you have an interest in returning to the NFL?

JM: I have an interest right now in beating the Baylor Bears.

Q: Jim, what would make that [Chargers] job a plum?

JM: what job?

Q: the Chargers job, I know you know…

JM: I'm not going to talk about the Chargers. The Chargers have a head coach [Norv Turner] who's a very good friend of mine so I'm not going to disrespect him by saying anything about that job.

Q: but you don't think it's far away… I know Coach Pagano…

JM: Johnny Pagano is one of my best friends, and I've known Norv forever, and I wish him the best.

Q: did you think your avenue of coaching would be through college?

JM: you know, when I sat out those years, those couple of years. I had chances to go back into the NFL and there was nothing to pull me there. But there was something that pulled me to UCLA. And I'm thankful. For whatever it was that pulled me there. I'm thankful it did. Because this has been the best year of coaching that I've ever had. And I'm not talking about on-the-field wins and losses. I'm just talking about the satisfaction of working with these young men in the environment at UCLA.

Q: do you get more going with college than…

JM: I have this year. It's been a tremendous year. I've loved every second of it.

Q: and why is that? Because the kids are still forming? More agreeable?

JM: not necessarily "agreeable". 18 year old boys are not always agreeable. I guess comes down to this. You're able to have an impact on their lives. The concrete hasn't hardened on who they are as individuals. They still need you. And that's a good thing. We all want to be needed. I like it when a kid comes into my office and is able to share either something great that's happened in his life or needs my help with something. That's a satisfying feeling. And I've got 110 of those guys that I have made a commitment to and their parents to help them become the men that their families want them to be, and I take it very seriously. It's just been very rewarding. There's a purity. A passion. There's an enthusiasm at this level that's very unique.

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