Tuesday, December 13, 2011

UCLA's Mora--Not The Best Choice

On the Wow! scale, UCLA's hiring Jim Mora Jr. as its new football coach a few days ago ranks way down, somewhere between No Way and Who?

This venerable program deserves better than a NFL has-been who can't even find a job in pro football. After he was kicked out of Seattle early last year so the Seahawks could hire Pete Carroll, he interviewed for defensive coordinator positions in Denver and Philadelphia that he didn't get. He's been working as a TV broadcaster while keeping his eyes open for coaching jobs.

Let's face it. If he was that good at coaching wouldn't he, at the young age of 50, have a prime job or at least be in demand? UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero offered Mora the position because the guys he really wanted turned him down. Under the gun, Guerrero, who really bungled the coaching search, had to hire some one right away. Mora was the fall-back choice. But he didn't let his ego get in the way. When someone is offering a five-year-contract worth $12 million, you swallow your pride and leap at it.

Mora is well schooled in the pro game, but the difference between coaching pro and college is night and day. In the NFL you get to work with skilled, grown men all day, while in college you deal with youngsters who are students part time and athletes for only a few hours a day. Mora may be familiar with pro athletes, but you can't treat college kids like pros.

So Mora starts out with a major handicap. Not only does he have limited college experience--a year as a grad assistant in Washington back in 1984--but, because of his career pro focus, he's doesn't know the college game or the intracacies of its most crucial aspect, recruiting.

On the recruiting trail, Mora does have one advantage that's bound to help him lure hot prospects. Kids with an eye on the NFL might think it's a smart move to team up with a coach who spent his career in the pros. You can be sure that Mora is hoping some four-or-five-star QB prospect--the potential backbone of a team--will think that way.

Naturally, everybody is making comparisions with USC hiring Pete Carroll back in 2000, when he was an out-of-work ex-NFL coach. But Carroll lucked into a position at a premier football school. Mora, however, is taking over at a college where basketball has higher priority, the football facilities aren't first rate and the  administration isn't fully committed to the kind of funding that would keep a program consistently in the Top 25. Carroll was set up in a prime position to succeed, while Mora starts out in a hole, surrounded by so many obstacles.

For Mora, it's scrambling time. While engaging in some heavy-duty recruiting, he has to familiarize himself with a new position and learn the complexities of a new sport. Can he do it? Known to be an affable hard worker and a capable leader, he certainly can, particularly if he surrounds himself with a savvy staff. But it's not going to be easy.