UCLA coach Jim Mora sat down for an hour and a half in his office to talk candidly about everything pertaining to his job performance at UCLA -- the 4-8 season, the blame for last year's offense, claims that his staff has lulls in summer recruiting, his long-term commitment to UCLA, the NFL, what he listens to on Sirius Radio, Yoda and more...
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On his Yoda collection:
I’m not a Star Wars guy, but I like Yoda. I look at him over my shoulder and try to get wisdom out of him every once in a while. One of my favorite sayings, you have John Wooden on this campus, all these great academics and motivators and my favorite quote is from Yoda, ‘Try not, do or do not. There is no Try.’ That captured me when I was in high school. I don’t say it in Yoda’s tone but it’s a good philosophy. I’m not a Star Wars geek but I liked Yoda’s calm wisdom, something I do not have. Neither.
On what he’s learned in five years on the job:
I love it. I never want to leave UCLA. I love it here. I want to continue to build this program and do well so I can stay here. There are a lot of differences between college and pro, obviously. Most of them off the field. In the NFL, you’re judged on one thing, did you win or lose on Sunday. Character concerns, other issues that come up that aren’t as important as winning or losing. Here in college, you’re charged with helping a young man and reaching his dreams, helping him prepare for the rest of his life. You’re concerned about wins and losses, sure, but also, what is the academic progress rate? Are your players getting jobs? Are they passionate about life outside of football? The fall quarter, which is the most difficult quarter, 43 of our players made the academic honor roll, which is the most in our history. The scholarship freshman, all but one made the academic honor roll and the one that didn’t made a 2.9. Those things give you a sense of fulfillment and reward beyond your wins and losses. College football is where its at. We’ve made a lot of progress. Last year was obviously very difficult but I think we’re back on the right track and I’m excited about it.
On what he’s learned about UCLA:
It’s a beautiful campus, it’s a place of high integrity. Its not like other places. We don’t bend the rules. We don’t deviate from the standard as a university. There are things we hold near and dear. We have standards we hold ourselves to. There are only certain types of young men will fit in to this culture.
On if those standards frustrate him when it comes to recruiting:
I think at the end of the day, there are moments of frustration, but at the end of the day, I’m proud to work at a university like this, where there is no compromise. I’m proud what we’re accomplishing. Our admissions people have been fabulous with us. Because there is a great working relationship. They’ve seen the success we’re having and they’re working with us. There is a great relationship between admissions and athletics. I don’t see a lot of negatives. We’re building this amazing football facility, the Wasserman Center. New practice fields, there is not a lot we don’t have here. The one negative you might say is there is no stadium on campus, but to go out to play games at the Rose Bowl is not a bad alternative. We’re not going to complain about that.
On the potential for UCLA to compete on a national scale:
We can compete. We have to continue to build consistency in our program in how we work and in our standards. We have to continue the best and the brightest, great athletes with great character and buy into our concept of team. If we do that, like everyone else, we’ll be competing at the end. We have to get breaks and stay healthy. There are so many things that go in to having a successful season but the first thing you have to work on is stabilizing your foundation which I think we’ve done.
On how much of a change he’s made on the program since he started:
I don’t know I could make a comparison because I didn’t quite understand college football, but I think we’re in a good spot. When you’re coming off a 4-8 season, it’s tough to say, but I like our players and coach and their attitude and the direction we’re headed. We have opportunities. We’ve accomplished a lot on and off the field. Academically, our graduation success rate, building our new building. The new Under Armour contract, which I think, football’s success helped with. IMG’s new contract and football success had to do with it. A lot of millions of dollars had been generated because of the success we’ve had which has allowed us to move forward in a positive way. Like with anyone with high aspirations, there are bumps in the road and adversity and you have to work through that. That’s life at a high level.
On the Wasserman Center:
Our resources now aren’t bad at all, they’re good. If you want to compete at the highest level, the Wasserman Center, everything will be under one roof. Tremendous locker room, tremendous equipment room, tremendous training and rehabilitation resources. Our weight room is state of the art, our nutrition center is state of the art, our cardio complex is state of the art, our team meeting room is state of the art. Our players will have everything they need in that building to reach their potential. And not just the building, but the people in that building. In recruiting it’s already paid off, to be able to take that 2017 class through there and show the families where they’ll be spending most of their time had a tremendously positive impact. Many that toured the best schools in the country, because we are trying to compete with the best, made the comments that these would be the nicest facilities they’ve seen. You combine that with obviously our geographic location and weather, it’s a big plus for us.
On what his donation to the facility represented:
Commitment. I think there have been people every year questioning my commitment because rumors get out there that I want to go back to the NFL, which has never really been true. Let me take out the never really been. It’s never been true. I wanted to make a commitment like UCLA has made to me. Tangible, some sort of legacy here, being able to contribute to that funding and have it named after the family was important to me. Its not something I think about, its just the right thing to do.
On what other resources he’d like to see at UCLA:
Not a lot. Unless we can get a stadium on campus. I don’t know that that’s feasible. It’s a dream. I credit Dan Guerrero and Josh Rebholz with the things they’ve been able to accomplish, fundraising. You combine the Wasserman with the Basketball Facility and that part of campus is beautiful. This was an amazing campus but it didn’t always represent what UCLA was. You come in from the Southwest side of campus, it wasn’t always represent how beautiful UCLA was as a campus. Dan and Josh were the impetus behind, it’s beautiful. I go wow, looking out the window, wow. I have a pretty good view. It’s over the field and I can see on to campus and Pauley and it’s beautiful. To be in a building where your players want to congregate. So much of the synergy of a team is not on the field. It’s in the locker room. When they’re just around the men. Getting to know each other as people and not football players, its important.
On scouts spying from the Luskin Center:
We thought about that. We have a lot of people giving a lot of thought about that. There will be a screen up. There won’t be eyes on it. We wont let an opponent get a video tape. We’ll have a screen that goes up. It wont be permanent so when we practice, we’ll have the motorized screen, and when practice is done they’ll have this beautiful view.
On the Under Armour impact:
Resources. When you sign the largest apparel deal in college sports, which Dan and Josh were able to negotiate, it gives you more resources and that gives you more opportunity. There is a trickle down. They’ve done a tremendous job, and people will see it when we roll it out, it’s the branding. People say we have too many blues. And too many versions of gold and yellow. They’ve done a nice job of trying to brand every sport, when you look at it, you’ll know for sure its UCLA. The script, the font. I think the uniforms will be beautiful. They’ll stick with the tradition of UCLA. That’s important to us. The patterns they use, the fabrics they use. It will be beautiful. Traditional and beautiful. They will look very similar to last year. Last year, in my opinion, its limited to the five-years, that was the closest we’ve gotten it to what people want it to look like with the stripes and the numbers and the pants being the gold. We worked really hard to do that. Its important to people. There is a younger generation too that is influenced by what a uniform looks like. That draws their attention. We always have to be thinking about that I’ve heard from many recruits, what is the main uniform going to be looking like. I went to Washington and I’m a traditionalist. I liked being able to turn on the TV and recognize the team playing. I believe in our uniforms, I love them, they’re beautiful. This year, we’ll have options. We can go back to the white jersey and the gold pants and it will look good again. We can wear all white if we want. There is a philosophy, I’m a uniform junkie. People don’t understand this, when you put a dark pant with a white jersey, it makes your athlete look shorter. That’s why the all-white is something you like to do. The reason the Raiders where a silver pant always is because through Al Davis’ research, it made them look bigger. That’s something that always sticks in my mind. When I see a dark pant and white shirt, you get nervous. I think you’ll like what Under Armour does. There was some thought about blue pants. I don’t want to look stumpy so we want to elongate the look. Even if it’s the placebo effect, maybe we look longer than we are. Its something I try to be conscious of. We try to have a solid reason behind every decision we make.
On if his long term plan is to stay at UCLA:
Given the opportunity, I would never want to leave. Why would I? I love what we’re building and doing and I love the people I work with. I know we have to win. Last year was a setback, for us, for me personally, I am a glass half full guy and from a setback comes tremendous opportunity. I relish the chance to face adversity and overcome it. I’ve had a career for 30+ years, I’ve had ups and downs, when I was coaching, when I was a coaching son. Some of the greatest coaches in the world have had difficult seasons and been able to come back from it. When you’re trying to achieve greatness, there will be hurdles and stumbling blocks. There will be days that are tough. You always have to stay true to your core values. You have to stabilize the foundation and do the right things.
On Jedd Fisch being rumored to go to Alabama:
There are always a lot of rumors. Rumors are rumors. I have a great relationship with Jedd. He’s a man of integrity. If he had talked to Nick Saban, I am certain he would have talked to me. And he never talked to me. I don’t really follow the rumor mill. One thing healthy to me is I don’t read the paper, watch the news, I don’t go on the internet, not any one site, I don’t read the boards or blogs. I listen to SiriusXM. What I have been fascinated by is going between CNN and Fox. It stimulates me and takes me away from the pressures of this. I’ve found the best way to operate is insulate myself from those not in the business. I have my circle of people I talk to when I need advice. I had a father that was successful in this business, who cares about UCLA and his son. I can access any NFL coach, owners, general managers, people I trust who know this business. Those are the voices I want in my head. I do keep a pulse of what the UCLA community wants because I do want to be a servant and I feel very strongly about that. I try to represent as best I can. That’s why you wont see me at a bar or nightclub. If you see me out, ill be jogging or with my kids at a game.
On the offense in 2016:
Kyle Shanahan talked about a style of defense and everyone wants to label the style and it’s really hard to do. I accept full responsibility for the offensive shortcomings last year. That was my fault, that was Jim Mora’s fault. My miscalculation that, I just miscalculated. I didn’t do a good enough job of vetting and thinking through and projecting and getting the pieces in place. There is no one to blame but me and I accept the blame. Moving forward I thought it was important to find someone who had an NFL and college background and I was able to hire a guy who worked for Steve Spurrier and Brian Billick, worked for Mike Shanahan. Worked for Pete Carroll, regardless of what we as a UCLA community may say about him, is a tremendous football coach. Worked for Jim Harbaugh. A series of concepts that I believe are best suited for our players skill sets. Im excited about Jedd. Being able to bring DeShaun Foster back as our running backs coach. He has a real credibility with the players and a great demeanor. I think having him go away for a year and coaching running backs brings him even more credibility. Bringing in a younger coach but still a coach with a lot of impact like Hank Fraley, who started 123 games in the NFL and started in a Super Bowl. A ton of credibility with our players. Bringing in Jimmie Dougherty, I always had him on my list of guys I’d want to hire. When I was at Washington watching Coach Martin, the other guy who jumped out was Jimmie and I loved the way this guy coached. I got to sit in player meetings, staff meetings, talking to him. I knew he was a guy if I had an opportunity I would want to hire so I feel really good about the staff.
On matching personnel to scheme:
That’s where I made the mistake. That was my mistake. I had a vision of what I wanted and I did not do a very good job, I did a poor job, especially when Josh went down. I wanted to be more inside and outside zone, which is the best run concept and we didn’t get to that. In order to have success, you can’t be stubborn in what you do. You have to have flexibility and experience and knowledge to fit the concepts to your players. Coaches don’t name things, fans and media name things. We call it Sunday style. We don’t name it that. These are the concepts. Ive never been around coaches that name things. Even Bill Walsh, you talk about the West Coast Offense, I never heard him use that term and I was around him eight years. There was a philosophy that went around the plays we ran. It was a philosophy that he had created through the years. Take Jon Gruden’s WCO and compare it to Bill Walsh’s. The best coaches take it and analyze it. These concepts will develop with these athletes. Being around Spurrier and Billick and Harbaugh and Shanahan. They’ve had huge success offensively. Last year I did a poor job.
On hiring Hank Fraley and how he fits with Fisch’s offense:
We interviewed, Jedd and I interviewed a lot of guys, some known, some not known. Young guys, old guys. We found a guy in Hank who was very smart, had a lot of success in the position, with what you’d consider limited abilities. He can transfer that information to a player and its very dynamic. He has a great feel for the zone schemes and the things we want to do. I didn’t do a good enough job emphasizing and I think he’s a great fit for our players. I’ve watched our players respond to our coaches, and we’ve been there three times already, and the energy and enthusiasm and intense looks, the number of players coming to the office, reviewing film, there is a vibe and energy and pulse missing and its great to see it back.