Buzz over Mora's comments points to something

Following recent controversial comments made by Atlanta Head Coach Jim Mora, Jr., this past week on KJR radio in Seattle, it's interesting to reflect on an analysis made a year ago by Mora's former Washington teammate, and current KJR commentator, Hugh Millen.

"He is a coach without a flaw," Millen said of Mora. "He's going to be one of the greats in this industry. Twenty years from now, people are going to talk about him as one of the great, all-time coaches. Ever. Twenty-five years from now they'll be handing him a yellow blazer."

While the jury is still out on Mora's place in the NFL pantheon twenty-five years from now, he certainly kicked up some dust this past week. During an interview with KJR's Dave "Softy" Mahler and Millen, the Husky alum proclaimed that he has much respect for Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, but said "if that job's open, you'll find me at the head of the line with my resume in hand ready to take that job." When asked if he was available, Mora replied, "It doesn't even matter if I'm available. I don't care if we're in the middle of a playoff run, I'm packing my stuff and coming back to Seattle!"

Since that time, the inevitable fallout in Atlanta has taken place. Falcon fans and management are still fuming over the jilt. Mora's rejoinder was to backpedal and humbly apologize. He claimed to have been joking with Millen, and since then has tried to convince everyone that he simply fell into a tried-and-true jovial rapport with his old college roommate.

To anyone who heard the KJR interview, there is no question that Mora, Jr. was dead serious. He momentarily sounded lost in reverie, speaking from the heart. Besides, nobody gets to the position of NFL head coach and lets words slip like that without a large degree of premeditation. Whether he has feared for his job in recent weeks, or even has wanted out of Atlanta altogether, is unknown. What is known is that a gregarious and energetic coach with a great reputation for X's and O's, a tendency to obsess over details (once taking his team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl), yet still bleeding purple and gold - and in college days referred to by the women's track team as "Rump Daddy" - has shouted from the rooftops that he wants the Washington job.

Of course, it's pie in the sky dreaming. Current Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham was given a commitment and deserves a third season, and he's not going anywhere anyways. Getting excited about the Mora scenario is an act of pointless, yet imaginative castle-building.

But one aspect that bears mentioning is the excitement that Mora's comments generated amongst Husky fans on Dawgman.com's message boards. Therein lies the rub. If the current Husky coach was Jeff Tedford, Steve Spurrier or Mack Brown, Mora's comments would register nothing more than a blip on the radar. But with Willingham as Head Coach and Todd Turner as Athletic Director, the perception among some is that Washington doesn't have the very best representatives in place, and turnover is at least plausible.

With Willingham, improvement has shown itself from a 2-9 record in 2005 to 5-7 in 2006. But there are also fears that Washington is frittering away precious time, being led by a coach with a career winning percentage of just over .500.

With Turner, there have been positive steps taken - including the recent preliminary designs of a remodeled Husky Stadium. Those sketches excite the imagination. But the fear with Turner is that he takes a similar stance as that of Seattle Mariner CEO Howard Lincoln. For several years, Lincoln has defined success as merely being sufficiently competitive to put enough people in the seats to generate a profit. Likewise, with Todd Turner, there is never a sense of a communicated urgency to win now. Or that Pac-10 Championships are a must at the University of Washington.

Now let's juxtapose those thoughts to November 11, 2006 - the most miserable game day in Husky football history. It was the end of the third quarter, and winless Stanford was whipping Washington at Husky Stadium. Former Lombardi and Outland Award winner Steve Emtman stepped into the west end zone and was recognized for his entry into the College Football Hall of Fame. Approximately 25,000 fans had hung around, and they applauded. The moment should have been beautiful, but instead was awkward and seemed born of mere obligation. In retrospect, it would have been more fitting to introduce the man behind this mess, Rick Neuheisel. The former UW coach could have stepped into the end zone with his guitar and waved gleefully to the crowd before leading Husky fans in a rendition of "Dust in the Wind."

But in the cold, real world, it was Emtman being introduced to the paltry crowd. And as he stood there, he thought to himself, 'This is not happening, it can't be happening.'

"I'm more a Husky than most of those coaches," Emtman later said. "Really, the only remaining Huskies left are Greg Lewis up in the Graves Building, and (defensive line coach) Randy Hart. All the other Huskies have left or were pushed out. And that's sad, really.

"I just want to know what Turner's plan is for Husky football," he added. "Do we have a plan other than spending millions of dollars for a football stadium that might be finished ten or fifteen years from now? I want to see us win now, not ten or fifteen years from now."

Many thousands of fans share Emtman's sentiments. Thousands of others patiently accept that Rome wasn't built in a day. But every fan feels the pull of Husky football, and desperately longs to return to the days of 9-3 seasons. But they don't all get a sense of urgency coming from their Athletic Director and they feel like their head football coach possesses the same job security regardless of whether his team goes 4-8 or 8-4.

If nothing else, that's why people got excited last week and felt the love when Jim Mora, Jr. went on the radio and foolishly blurted out, "If that job comes open, I don't care if we're in the middle of a playoff run. I'm packing my stuff and coming back to Seattle!"

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ""Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnson1@verizon.net

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