UCLA football coach Jim Mora before a game at the Rose Bowl. Photo courtesy of Zimbio.com
LET’S SET THE SCENARIO:
It’s roughly a half-hour or so after playing the University of Arizona on the road.
UCLA had just proved a lot of people, including the pundits on ESPN’s popular morning pre-game show College Game Day – Lee Corso had put on Arizona’s Wildcat mascot head when picking who would win between the Bruins and U of A, as the show was broadcast from the Arizona campus in Tucson – dead wrong in crushing the Wildcats 56-30, essentially deciding things early in building a 35-14 lead.
Which would earn them a bump to seventh in the AP polls, with the college football community giving the Bruins huge pats on the back as well as getting the students, alumni and fans that make up the members of Bruin Nation quite excited about the season’s possibilities; visions of a Pac-12 title, the College Football Playoff, and (dare to say it) the program’s second national championship coming to Westwood dancing inside their true blue-and-gold heads.
Many coaches, I reckon, would do nothing but sing the praises of their team’s efforts, making statements about how hard they played and how proud they were of them if not (figuratively speaking) actually jump for joy or do a victory dance during the post game press conference.
As Jim Mora was answering the media’s questions and commenting on his squad’s triumph, it was evident that UCLA’s fourth year head coach was not most coaches, mostly due to one particular thing he said.
In the midst of his Bruins’ knockout of Arizona, he made note of how disappointed he was in the team’s run defense in giving up over 350 yards on the ground, saying:
“I like to stop the run…nothing impressed me. It starts with me, then the assistant coaches, then the players. We all have to do a better job. For a team to be able to run the ball on us like that is inconceivable to me. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
That statement, as well as this one:
“I don’t think it matters to us what people think about us. I think the external expectations are there for (the media) to talk about. We talk about our own expectations. We have our own standard and that’s how we try to play to regardless of who, where we’re playing, what the circumstances are and what people outside are saying.”
Convinced me – once and for all AND beyond a shadow of a doubt – why I not only immensely like Mora as UCLA’s head man, but also why I (more than ever) feel that he’s the perfect man to lead the Bruins and take them to the next level.
With the utmost respect to all of UCLA’s previous coaches, as they were each successful in their own way,
(I know that some people will dispute that last statement with regards to Rick Neuheisel, but let’s not forget that as he recruited most of the players that won ten games in back-to-back seasons and have beaten crosstown rival USC three straight times under Mora, it can’t be denied that Neuheisel recruited very well and needs to be given at least some credit to what’s happening now)
If the Bruins are to hopefully achieve national glory, Mora is the perfect man to lead them to that Promised Land because he knows and understands that early and mid-season laurels cannot be rested upon, that there is much to improve upon and much work to be done before the Bruin faithful starts to get in extreme celebration mode.
To which I completely concur as if that run defense in particular does not improve, starting with the upcoming battle against an Arizona State team bent on redeeming themselves after suffering that beat down at the hands of USC,
As well as against other future opponents, especially teams with strong running attacks like Stanford and Utah,
All those good feelings and pats on the back that Bruin Nation has been enjoying will instantly disappear.
It is definitely not my intention to be a “Debbie Downer” or to rain on anyone’s parade, and I’m sure Mora wasn’t intending anything of the sort either; what UCLA has done to this point has pleased me on a large scale.
But in over thirty years of being a dedicated Bruin fan, which predates my days as a student in Westwood, I have learned something very important, and I’m sure that every one of my fellow members of Bruin Nation knows and understands this too.
But for anyone who is not part of the UCLA choir that I’m preaching to…