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 dislikes 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 Part Two, Mora refers to his project of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to raise money to build life-sustaining wells for East African communities in need. You can read about it and contribute here: Waterboys: Conquering Kili.
Now, in the final installment, Mora talks about recruiting -- against Stanford, returning to the NFL, UCLA uniforms, footballs, putting a year together with a good offense and good defense, and expectations for the 2017 season.
On fall camp:
We’re not going to San Bernardino. We have these amazing facilities here now. We have the Luskin, a tremendous place to put our players up. We’ll provide a training camp setting here. I would not rule out a surprise excursion of sorts somewhere. Im not saying we’ll go to the Seals. One of the things we’ve put an emphasis on this offseason is our professional development with our players. Hiring Roman Phifer back has been a big boon for this program. Bringing in speakers to talk about everything from finances to sexual misconduct to academic integrity to drugs and abuse to social media to motivational to career enhancement. We’ll continue to explore all those things and provide those resources for our players. I care about the UCLA community. I don’t read it, because its not healthy for me, but Im not afraid to address criticism as long as people take me at my word and know I’m not a liar. I’ve said how many times, it’s my fault with the offense last year.
On the lingering NFL interest during his time at UCLA:
I’ll look right into the camera and say with complete and total truthfulness, I come to this job every single day and do the best job I can that day to make this a better program and team. I have no interest in going to the NFL. I love college football, I love UCLA. I’m grateful for Dan Guerrero. I want to do well so I can stay here. At this point in my life in a selfish way, I would like to say I could leave a legacy, that I did something good. I look at that building over there and I’m proud, in some very, very small way, that I had something to do with that. The success we had early enabled that project to be done. I don’t want to stop there. I am 100,000% committed to UCLA and they’ll get all my energy every day and will continue to.
On not recruiting in the summer:
That’s not true. Just because one recruit says we haven’t heard from them in ten days, that doesn’t mean it’s true and that doesn’t mean we’re not recruiting then. We are. We are constantly recruiting every day, every single day. We’re recruiting our asses off. We wouldn’t have the classes we have if we didn’t. You have to remember, there are challenges here that other schools dont have. Its not the easiest place to recruit to. It’s a wonderful place to recruit to, but not the easiest place to. There are more advantages than negatives.
On those negatives:
An unwanted perception of Los Angeles at times. Kids from the South, I don’t want to send my kid to the the West. I say ‘come to UCLA and you’ll understand’. We’re bordered by Bel Air, Brentwood and Beverly Hills. We have Santa Monica over here and we have Westwood over here. This is one of the most amazing places in the United States of America. Come and see it. We talk about the academics. That’s a challenge, that’s one we relish. But it’s a challenge. History, tradition. Our basketball team has tradition, they’ve earned it over the years. Its great to see them this year back in the spotlight where they belong. UCLA, I could be misspoken, but UCLA has never been in the spotlight that I know of. Our objective is to get to that point. You’re recruiting against tradition. I’ll be frank here, it’s hard. Its hard to beat Stanford on a kid. As great an institution as this is, as established as it is, as acclaimed as it is worldwide, for the parents Ive encountered, this isn’t my opinion but based on what people tell me, all Coach (David) Shaw has to do is look at a parent and say ‘your son is going to graduate from Stanford.’ It’s hard to beat that. A lot of times (you’re recruiting against the parents). At Southern Cal, the tradition. There isn’t one Heisman Trophy, there is a lot of them and a lot of national championships and a lot of the greatest players whove ever played and there are some challenges. Theyre not excuses, they’re challenges. And we like it. We’re doing good, but we want to do great. Every day, to represent you and everyone who represents UCLA. We give it our best effort every day.
On what to grasp on as hope coming off a 4-8 seasons:
It’s the type of athlete we recruit and the type of coaches we’ve hired and the type of culture we’ve created. I don’t like to make excuses. We lost a great quarterback, the 5th leading passer in the country when he was hurt (Josh Rosen). We lost Kolton Miller, a great tackle, when he was hurt. We were transitioning offensively and I did not do a good job of thinking it through like I should have. A horrible job. But our players are men of character and incredibly motivated. Not one player had gone through something like that. Embarrassing for all of us, disappointing. We all have high aspirations. We recruit players that John Wooden said have competitive greatness, at their best when their best is needed. Sal has done a good job of fostering an environment of accountability. We’ve chosen a book on leadership and the players get together and discuss it. How do we get the 10% not on board, on board. Its exciting to me. The three times we’ve been on the field, when you’ve done this a long time, you get feelings. I have a good feeling and love the direction we’re heading. On the outside, I’d be skeptical but I am a glass half full guy. I try to see the positives. Im excited to see the direction we’re headed. I love Dan and Josh and the support. I love Casey Wasserman and he continues to step up. Nelson Rising steps up. A passionate guy like Andy Meyers who’s back in the boat. I love that Troy Aikman is back in the boat.
On a reasonable expectation for the season:
Those are questions that are hard for me. At the Falcons, the owner would get his board together. Hank Aaron was there, some amazing people, and he’d give us the schedule and say ‘predict the record’. And for three straight years, I wrote 1-0. And he’d get angry and be ‘Jim, what is your record going to be? 12-4? 13-3? 15-1?’ and I would say ‘1-0.’ If I go 12-4, that’s going to win the division. But what four games do you want me to say we’re going to lose. So I very much look at a season as one day at a ti me process. A realistic expectation is we demand from each other, every single day, we do the best we can. If we have the right people in place, then we will have success.
On the stigma of UCLA never putting together a good offense and defense in the same year:
Lets hope that this is that year. I think we have a really good defense. I think losing those guys in the secondary is a test, losing Randall (Goforth) and Fabian (Moreau) and Marcus Rios, those are some good players who played a lot of good football here. There are some challenges. We have a good front and our linebacker corps is solid. Losing Jayon Brown, someone is going to have to step up but Josh Woods has that capability. Offensively, the things we’ll do, I believe we might finally be able to do that. And then the third component, we have to play well on special teams. When you have a freshman kicker, and I haven’t been able to figure that out yet, so if someone can, let me know. But you can’t have two kickers on scholarship at the same time with the numbers. But how do you build experience at the position without going back to a freshman. I believe that JJ Molson has really matured. He gave me his list of goals. He’s up at 3:30 in the morning and doing things differently. Austin Kent, he struggled last year from a mental and emotional and physical thing. He was away from home and he’s matured but we had to have a contingency. I hope this is the year we put all three phases together and enjoy the injury bug. It would be well deserved based on the way these players work and their attitude.
On just playing up to the expectation level of the talent:
But I also think you have to understand this. The evaluation of talent is subjective. And what a reader may think is talent based on what they read is not necessarily talent based on what we see. And it could go either way. That’s why its tough when you evaluate your recruiting class based on stars. Stars are subjective. You’re making those decisions based on what you see. But like with anybody, we have different criteria and priorities. The important thing is when we do the things we do on and off the field, we cant have selfish players. We have a saying we’ll recognize and celebrate individual success if it leads to team achievement. We can never go the other way. You have to make sure you bring the right guys in. Sometimes the perceived five star will tear your team apart and the perceived two-star can be Conor McDermott. Or Jayon Brown, a three-star. It’s a constant evaluation of the things that are important.
On the stripes on the jersey:
They’re going to be good. They thought making them wider would make them more prominent. Big numbers make you look big. A lot of people said the Clarendon is historically the numbered font we went with. We went back with the block but the shoulder stripe people didn’t like. Last year, we went to a different company and got the blue more true. Why can’t the stripe go all the way around? The way jerseys are fit now, guys like it tailored and tucked. Underneath these jerseys, they’re taped to the pads. They’re TV numbers. I thought they were pretty. I think people will be very happy (with Under Armour). I can’t show it to you yet, but I think people will be very excited about them. I would ask this, that the traditionalists would have a little more of an open mind. They may be more flashy than they’re used to but they’ll capture the attention of the younger recruit. We never want to go away from what UCLA is known for. I look through it every year. I try to make it the best we can. It’s a challenge. You deal with a company that tech-fit was their thing but not my thing. Adidas did a great job for us, a lot better job than people think. They’re basing their opinion on this tech-fit jersey. There are a lot of things Adidas did. We’re excited about Under Armour. I’ve had a relationship with Kevin Plank for a long time. They’ll do a great job. It’s very important for Under Armour that they do a great job for UCLA. We’re their flagship school on the West Coast. And they’re trying to make in-roads here and they are. I’ll miss people at Adidas we had great relationships with.
On what kind of football they’ll use:
It will be interesting to see what kind of ball we’ll use. When I first got here, we used an Adidas football as part of our deal. But this (Wilson) ball is the NFL ball. It’s the best ball in football. It’s the college version because you have to have stripes, but it’s the exact same football they throw in the NFL. When I got here I told Dan we needed to change our football because we were going to throw the ball. Unfortunately at the time, and Adidas has done a great job since, but their football wasn’t at the standard we needed to put in Brett Hundley’s hands. Funny story, I went in to the person at the time, who is no longer here, great guy, Glenn Toth, he did a great job, I liked working with him. We had our disagreements of course. So I said, ‘Glenn, we need to switch footballs.’ And he said we’re an Adidas team, we can’t switch football, it will cost us. And I said we need to. And he said, Jim, a ball is a ball. And I said, Glenn, a ball is not a ball. You play golf, don’t you Glenn? Say you play with a ProV1, the rest of your life, you’ll play with the Pink Lady and he says ‘no im not.’ And I said, a ball is a ball. And he says, I gotcha, so we switched. So we’ll see what kind of ball we’ll use. We’ll bring in a bunch of footballs and put them in the hands of our quarterbacks and ask them what ball they want to throw. It wont be a Nike ball, it wont be an Adidas ball, but hopefully it’s a Nike ball. You cant beat this football (Wilson). It’s the deflategate ball. That’s a whole other thing, the deflategate thing. Ive been around a gazillion quarterbacks and every single quarterback doctors a football. Every single quarterback. Within the rules. I can tell you some of the things I’ve seen. Hopefully I wont be called to testify, but I’ve seen some things. Quarrerbacks are specific about the things they throw. Hopefully our receivers catch it.
On some final statements:
As I said we wont be going to San Bernardino for practice and that might eliminate some people who were able to see us. Spring will be on the IM field. When we get out to fall camp, it will be harder to see us practice, there just wont be the room. We’ll have our spring ball at Drake, but to watch practice it will be tough. It will be a Lot A type of thing. You wont be able to come in, there wont be room. We’re spreading the fields out. The media is outside the gate (laughs). Our spring game will be more of a game. That’s another thing that’s hard as a coach, every time you practice as opposed to play, there are 22 UCLA Bruins doing this and you’re doubling your risk of injury. That’s tough trying to decide how much contact do you need. Our plan right now is to make our spring game more of a competitive game. We always have to be conscious of exposing our guys to injury. In the NFL, I could count on one hand where tackles were taken to the ground. You may have had a scrimmage against an opponent but against your team it didn’t happen. I told my dad we’d be going live, and he’s like ‘are you sure?’ You have to teach proper fundamentals. Our coaches are creative in how they teach to tackle, especially Coach Martin. I don’t know if the moving things help you tackle. First, they don’t move fast enough. I don’t think Royce Freeman is comparable to a dummy on wheels when he’s moving.
I think the hardest for me is when people criticize the way we recruit and that we take days off. We don’t. We do not take any days off. I felt guilty being back in Maryland when my son took an official visit because there was a kid on our campus that I wanted to see. As a dad, you have to have balance in your life.
On some kids saying they wanted to hear more from him:
Maybe I didn’t want them to hear from me. The kids I want to hear from me, hear from me constantly. There isn’t a day that goes by that I dont recruit the kids I want to hear from me. The kids who need to hear from me, hear from me. They develop a relationship with me. Ive become a better recruiter than I ever was when we were first here. To manage the time, know what to say, whats important to families. The other thing interesting about recruiting is the credit assigned to other coaches. We recruit as a staff. Just because a guy is assigned to a position coach, that doesn’t meant the position coach recruited him. We go from area to position. There are multiple coaches recruiting every player. The guys who never get enough credit are guys like Matt Bernstein and Pat Girardi and our analysts and our support staff. It’s a group effort. You’re not going to get them all. When you’re going after the best, and we always will, you’ll lose to Ohio State, sometimes a lineman from Bosco you really want, he’ll go to Ohio State. Maybe there is a reason. But we’ve never quit.