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.
In Part One, Mora candidly addressed 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.
In Part Two, he goes in-depth about what he likes and disliked about recruiting, why he wasn't at UCLA's camp last summer, keeping a balance between job and family, if UCLA can win against the football factories, Josh Rosen's status, linebacker Mique Juarez and what players could break out in spring.
In the interview, Mora refers to his project of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to raise money to build life-sustaining well water for East African communities in need. You can read about it and contribute here: Waterboys: Conquering Kili.
On if o-line positions will be established:
I think you have to establish positions. But there is always open competition. I thought that over the years Adrian was criticized unfairly. I choose to take the criticism. Im the one that makes the decisions. I don’t think its fair to push it off on those guys. Im the one who’s supposed to make sure its right and everyone is accountable. Adrian is a wonderful man and did a tremendous job. He’s a great man. It was time for a new voice. That happens in this business. Hank is going to do a tremendous job building on what Adrian started.
On elements of recruiting after five seasons he doesn’t like:
I guess there are only two things I don’t like. I don’t like the sense of entitlement. I think entitlement is a poor characteristic in people. I don’t blame the young players. As adults, we’ve created in our culture, we’re propping them up and promoting them and they have a sense of entitlement that hasn’t been earned. Its something you have to deal with. When a 16-year old is telling you im not feeling the love because you havent texted in 11 days, I think there is a character flaw there so you have to be able to adjust to it.
On if he’d rather have a player with less talent and less entitlement than a player with more talent but more entitlement:
Jaelan Phillips. He comes in and does a tremendous job of evaluating UCLA and the other teams in it. He comes to a decision and he’s all in. And said ‘Coach, stay in touch, but build a great class around it.’ I want to be great and in order to be great, we have to have great players. But everyone is different. We have five intangibles we’re looking for in every recruit and theyre all different. And the other thing is difficult is Im a family man. I have four children I desperately care about and they’re at an age right now. Theyre competitive. In fact, this past weekend, I went on an official visit as a dad. Football is what I do but not who I am. One thing I promised myself is I wouldn’t define myself by my job but the kind of person I am and the rules I live by. The type of father I am, the type of friend I am, brother, son, that type. I pour my life into that. I don’t have a hobby. Its either family or football. There are times when its hard when your 14-year old son is looking at you and youre texting a recruit and hes dribbling down the floor and about to shoot a 3 and takes a look and youre texting a recruit, that’s a conflict for me, because I care desperately about my family but I care desperately about UCLA and my commitment to the program and the people. I take it very serious. There are some times its difficult.
On what he likes about recruiting:
The relationships. Ive come to love it even more. I love getting in these kids life when theyre freshman and sophomore and watching them grow and achieve their dreams. The greatest days for me are when they graduate and get their diploma and the NFL Draft, when they get picked. Or we can place them as free agents. Im really proud to say our graduating success rate is 88% and climbing. Every single senior who has come in here In five years that’s wanted an opportunity to go to the NFL has had a chance as a draft pick or a free agent. And they have opportunities outside of football. Guys like Roman Phifer have created a great program.
On his son’s lacrosse recruitment:
Ryder committed to Maryland after his sophomore year. Lacrosse recruiting and football recruiting are very different. When you commit in lacrosse, you shake hands, the coaches have a gentleman’s agreement that that kid is hands off. Its very very rare that they switch. He signed his NLI a couple months ago and we just took his official visit. It was really humbling being on the other side of it. I learned a lot from the coach at Maryland the coach at Denver. Coach Tierny and I talk often, once a week, not about lacrosse, not about Ryder, but about culture, about team synergy. We exchange books and sayings. I did the same thing with the coach at Denver. When we played Colorado, I asked him to come in. He’s in the lacrosse hall of fame. I had him listen to me and evaluate me. I used to do that with Bill Walsh, ask him to come in my meetings. Ask him what did he like, what didn’t he like, how was the presentation, what did I need to say. Learn from great coaches. I spent time with our softball coach, just learning about culture and organization. I like to do that. I like that my son is going to Maryland, No. 1 team in the country, playing for an unbelievable man. The other thing about recruiting that’s been the best thing, going on these visits and as a dad, knowing what you want for your kid. We went to Denver, Maryland, Navy, Yale, Harvard and Brown. Sitting with the coaches and evaluating the environment and the culture and support. Knowing what is important to me for my son, then feeling that obligation to create that same environment for someone elses son. I like that feeling, it keeps me in check.
On recruiting after a 4-8 season:
It wasn’t much different. We did well. I love our class. Three of these guys are already on campus and killing it. We filled some spots we needed to fill and there are still some things coming down the pike. It wasn’t a lot different really. Its an every day thing. Every day you have to do something. I had a FaceTime call with a parent. So we can see each other face to face. One of the things I do, I do my own recruiting. If im texting a player, its going to be Jim Mora punching the keys, not an office assistant texting for me. Im not going to have a false relationship with a player or parent, Im not. Its time consuming. The rub for me is balancing family and career. Im not going to lie, it’s a conflict at times. Its hard.
On missing UCLA’s camps in June:
There are a lot of things. My personal life has changed, I think everyone watching this knows. Its my personal life. I prefer to keep it personal out of respect for my family. But there were some changes to Pac-12 Media Day which changed the dates for our camps and believe it or not, a coach needs to get away and recharged. The coaches Ive always talked with, like Nick Saban, I have a great relationship with him, known him forever. I asked him ‘what do you do?’ He says, ‘Jim, I go to Europe, I turn off my phone, and I don’t think about football. I shut it down.’ I had a trip planned with my family and some other families and we paid a lot of money. There were changes made to the schedule. I had to make a decision. It was a time in my family relationship where the dynamics were different than they’d ever been. I decided the most important thing for me and my family and our health and our future, was to be together those two weeks. Ill be honest with you, me being at a camp, it means very little. To the athlete, he doesn’t care, I’ve met them all, I know them. Whether Im there or not is no big deal. They’ll come back to campus and come back. I didn’t take Nick’s advice. I talked to Jim Harbaugh too, he’s a tremendous recruiter. He takes some time and shuts it down to recharge. I was still in contact with these guys. Check my phone bill or text bill.
On climbing Mount Kilimanjaro:
I leave next Friday. Ill be gone for 10 days. I was really struck by this. Ive had a charitable foundation for 10 years, we’ve always tried to be philanthropic. And use the good fortune Ive had in this business. Chris Long, defensive end, Howie’s son, Chris plays for the Patriots and he has a foundation called “Water Boys” and they go in to remote villages in Africa and they build wells. They produce fresh water. In Tanzania, 2 in 5 children under five die of waterborne illness. They’ll go into these swamps and just drink water that animals have defecated in and people have bathed in and are contaminated. What I’ve found is that for $45,000 dollars, you can dig and build a well and find the water. Provide sustainable water for up to 7500 people for 20 years. So when Chris and those guys asked if I wanted to climb, because I love to climb, I love the challenge, I said ‘yes’. Initially it was a chance to go to Africa and climb a 19,000 foot peak, but a chance to raise money and to help people’s lives be enhanced. And I think promote our program. Plus, it’s the perfect time. Camp season hasn’t started. I cant go to 7v7 tournaments unless my kid is playing, which I did last weekend and was awesome. So it’s a perfect time to do it. If I get criticized for going thousand miles away to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to save lives, I can live with that. Im going to tell everyone what Im going to do, so they can go ahead and get their criticisms out, Im a big boy, ill get criticized a lot. The second that wheel lifts off the tarmac at LAX, my phone is getting turned off and it’s not getting turned back on until the wheel hits the tarmac at LAX. I need those 10 days and Ill take them. Im not going to miss much. We have one big time recruit coming in on the 11th. I know him well. Im going to meet tonight with his family via FaceTime. Knowing the family the way I do, they’ll be super excited about what Im doing and that will make more of an impact. Im a guy, when I get into recruiting, I have a slotted 20 minute discussion and it ends up being two hours because I like to get to know these people. I want them to know Im the kind of man they want their kids to be around.
On potentially being in the graduate transfer market for an offensive lineman:
And other positions as well. UCLA is a different environment. We take great pride in the type of academic institution we are and academics come first. That’s something Ive come to embrace. I wont lie, at times its frustrating. But it’s a sense of pride and it takes a special man to get into the graduate programs here. We had a tough break last year with the young man from Texas who wasn’t able to get in at the end and it hurt us on the offensive line, especially at the end with injuries. But the university has been tremendous in working with us. There is clear cut criteria for what has to happen for the young men to enter our program and we’re making sure that we do the right job of picking the best players of guys having success here. We’re not a football factory and we don’t want to be a football factory. I don’t want our graduation rate to be in the 50s and 60s like some places. To me, if that is the case, then we are failing and I am failing. Life is so much better than football. One of the great advantages ive had is being in the NFL. There are so many success we don’t read about. We read about the failures. The difference between the success and the failures is towards the end of the careers, finding a passion other than football, that when you step off the field and the noise ends, you have something and a motivation to get up in the morning and attack something with passion. The ones who succeeded had something and the ones who failed, it was all football, football, football. And then the noise stops and there is depression and there are drugs and drinking. There is despair. I don’t like those things. We start preparing our kids very early for life after football.
On if UCLA can compete against football factories:
Im not going to ever say no. That’s our ultimate goal every year. But there are some things that have to be done. We have to win the Pac-12 South. So we can get to the Pac-12 Championship Game and then we can go from there. We’re never going to settle. Can we? Absolutely. Is it going to be extremely difficult? You see the teams that are winning on a consistent basis. Great academic institutions, tremendous histories. But if you’re going to say that theyre a football factory. We don’t have those resources. We also don’t feel we necessarily need it. We have good people who know what theyre doing and do a nice job. But we have challenges and we’ll embrace those challenges. I look at John Wooden’s career, and in no way, shape or form, would I ever compare my career to John Wooden’s, but when he first came to UCLA, there were years of struggles as he built a culture, as he built an environment. And then they had success. And I feel like we’re doing that. Im very hopeful and optimistic that we can get to that point where we can compete with everybody.
On what it would accomplishment to play at that level:
It would be huge and a great sense of pride. From Chancellor Block to everyone else on campus, they would know we did it the right way. And we did it without compromising our standard. And we would all feel very good about that. Im not going to say that next year we can go down to Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama, but Im also not going to tell you that we can’t. We’d go down and compete and play our asses off. And we’re aiming at that. Every day, everyone in this building has the attitude, ‘what are you doing?’ Im preparing to win a national championship.’ You ask our equipment guys, when they’re folding the towels in a perfect way, why do they do it, ‘preparing to win a national championship.’ Ken (Norris) in video, ‘why are you working so hard, Ken?’ ‘I’m preparing to win a national championship.’ Sal Alosi, in my opinion, the finest strength and conditioning coach in the country, he’s preparing to win a national championship. Monday was President’s Day, Im at a 7v7 tournament, I call Sal, ask what he’s doing, he says, ‘what do you mean what am I doing?’ I just got down working out with the players. I said, ‘it’s a holiday.’ He said, ‘Jim, we’re 4-8, its not a holiday. We’re trying to win a national championship.’ That’s the attitude you want to have. You have to have that attitude without compromising academics. You want kids being socially responsible and find passions outside of football, that’s going to make the difference and will bring more respect to the institution. You’re an alum. I can say this every day, with complete sincerity, I understand the criticism, its part of the business. What your readers write is nothing compared to what I did when I made the comment that got me fired in Atlanta, when I said I wanted to go coach in college. I had to walk out on the field in the Georgia Dome, on a Sunday night, national TV, against Bill Parcells, the Dallas Cowboys fighting for a playoff spot. And got booed by 85k people, getting M’Fd by them. The things people said to me as I was running off the field. We’re in the playoff hunt and I look and shake his hand and I have 65-yards and I know its going to be the worst 65 yards of my life. And there are people standing there, yelling, ‘Eff you Mora, Eff you.’ At the time, I had the highest winning percentage in Atlanta Falcons history. I can accept the criticisms. People are passionate. My point is there, I need the people watching this to understand, my commitment to UCLA is full. My commitment to representing you, your wife, your daughter, your son who now plays for us, the Nelson Risings, the John Woodens, the Andy Meyers, the Casey Wassermans, the Collins family, the people that are unknown that come out and go to the Rose Bowl and go to the games, Im all in and I try to come in here every day and represent these people. Im not trying to screw it up. But I am. Im not perfect.
On Josh Rosen’s shoulder:
He’s throwing. He is done, along with his doctor, Dr. Gupta, who did the surgery, along with our doctors, and our athletic trainers, and with Josh putting in the work, he’s really doing well. We’re excited about where he is and our anticipation that when we open spring on April 3, he’ll be full go. We’re not going to let him be hit, but we’d never let him be hit. If he needs a day of rest or so, we’ll do that, but he needs to get into this offense. There is a pitch count on him and he has to build up the strength. There is constant communication between the surgeon and his dad, a renowned surgeon, between our doctors and athletic trainers, between Sal and Josh to make sure he’s doing exactly the right thing.
On some players to watch in spring:
Audie Omotosho, 6-3, 195, 200 pounds, by the time the season starts. He can run, he can catch, his lanky. Im excited about him. You mentioned Demetric Felton, we do these morning workouts, he looks tremendous out there, looking explosive. Brandon Burton is in the process of refining his body and body composition. He’s a hard worker and a leader and a great kid. I’m so excited to see Jaelan (Phillips) and Darnay (Holmes) and Jimmy (Jaggers). I get to watch them in the morning and see their attitude and their work ethic and their skill set. You understand why Jaelan and Darnay were in the top 20 players in the country and why Jimmy was a highly rated recruit at tight end. I’m excited about Rick Wade’s development and Devon Modster’s development, even though I forgot his name at the Signing Day news conference. And he’s doing tremendous. Same with Matt Lynch. He looks like a whole different guy. One guy we don’t talk about enough, who has become a real leader out there, is Caleb Wilson. And Jordan Wilson. Tight ends. So we’re excited about those things. I’ve seen Denzel Fisher take a step up. I’ve seen Nate Meadors take a step up. Safety will be some brand new guys. Jaleel (Wadood) will be back there, but Brandon Burton, we’ll see some new guys. Adarius Pickett, my dad loves him. That’s my dad’s favorite player. He loves Adarius. When Adarius is not on the field, I hear from my dad. ‘Why is No. 6 not on the field? Why Jim? Explain to me why he’s not on the field.’ There are reasons, maybe he’s hurt. Maybe he was tired. Maybe we were looking for a different matchup. And then I question myself- ‘why was Adarius Pickett not on the field? What a dumbass I am.’ Believe it or not, I am my won toughest critic and always will be and always want to be.
On any potential position changes:
The guy we have to do a good job with is Mossi Johnson. I’m a big Mossi fan. I think he is a really good football player. I go back to his freshman year in the USC game and some of the toughness he demonstrated and the catches he made. We’ve toyed with putting him at safety. His heart is at receiver. The offense would like him at the Z-receiver. But I’d like to see him play some nickel safety too. He’s rare. And he has some instincts and toughness in him. And he has some dog in him. I’m a huge Mossi Johnson fan. I need to make sure we’re doing the right thing with him. I’m really excited that Mique (Juarez) is back. I’ll tell you what, there is so much going on that people don’t understand and so much that he had to overcome, and he hung in there. And we hung in there with him. We got him the help he needed and he accepted it and he’s back on the field, with his teammates and he’s smiling again. He’s got a lot of work to do and catching up to do. He’s got work to do physically. But he’s with a guy in Sal who understands that. We understand it’s a process and it wont happen over night. We have goals going into winter and spring and summer, going into camp.