Saturday, November 18

Strong Side: Coach Jim Mora’s younger coaches improve football program by connecting with players

Adrian Klemm speaks with the offensive line during practice.

Adrian Klemm speaks with the offensive line during practice.

Blaine Ohigashi

Adrian Klemm had to take a seat.

He had spent the last three hours running around Spaulding Field trying to change the face of a football program.

Klemm, 34, isn’t in the shape he was as a three-time Super Bowl champion, but he’s not far off as his NFL career ended just seven years ago. He rests on some pads to field his post-practice media requests.

His knees hurt, but it’s a small price to pay. A month into his first spring practice at UCLA as the offensive line coach, Klemm’s working tirelessly but isn’t complaining ““ far from it.

“There’s a lot of energy,” Klemm said. “It’s fun being here. Nobody’s in a rush to go home. It’s easy to work in an environment when it doesn’t feel like work.”

Klemm is part of coach Jim Mora’s first staff, a revolutionary staff if they meet their goals.

Mora brought seven new coaches with him and kept two others from Rick Neuheisel’s staff. They haven’t even been together six months, but they’re already gelling. Mora’s proud of that.

“I love them, but I’ve felt like that since the day I hired them,” Mora said.

“I hired them knowing their personalities already, knowing what their strengths were as football coaches, knowing how they dealt with players. … I really never had a doubt that they would gel quickly. I’m extremely satisfied with them. I love every single bit of what they’re doing out here.”

Mora’s staff is a motley crew. You wouldn’t want to meet these guys in an alley, and getting on their bad side certainly comes with consequences. They could just as easily pass for his security detail as they could his assistant coaches.

They’re big, and one look at their necks or biographies on the team website will tell you why: The seven newcomers bring more than 90 years of NFL experience to the table either as coaches or players, some of them both.

Special teams and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, who was playing inside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers as recently as 2009, said his NFL experience got his foot in the door with his new players ““ important for a staff that wants to implement a culture change.

“It helps when you open the door and you start your meeting. It helps with credibility,” Ulbrich said.

“But if there’s no substance then that gets forgotten really quickly. I think coach Mora has done a great job assembling a group of guys that not only have NFL pedigrees but have substance to them.”

They like each other and they’re brimming with NFL experience, but most importantly, they’re young. They can relate to their players on a level Neuheisel’s staff couldn’t.

Seven of Mora’s coaches are under 45 and the oldest of them, offensive coordinator and spread offense guru Noel Mazzone, is 55. Neuheisel had two coaches over 60.

If Mora is going to turn UCLA football into a winner and change the attitude, he had to do something drastic. He had to infuse the program with energy and in coaching, energy means youth.

“Something needed to change,” said Klemm. “Something needed to capture the kids’ attention. Something needed to attract new kids to the program.

“There needed to be some changes made so that people on the outside looking in and people on the inside can see that things were going to go in a different direction.”

The energy is definitely there. The pace is faster. The tone is sterner. The expectations are higher. The coaches are more active in practices than they were under Neuheisel, and the players are reciprocating their enthusiasm.

Sometimes it boils over, like last week when a near-brawl broke out during practice. Mora doesn’t want his players starting fights, but that heightened level of intensity is exactly what he needs if he wants to turn this thing around.

Mora took a gamble when making hires ““ a calculated gamble but one that had to be made for him to change things drastically.

It would be tough to find a staff as unique as this one anywhere else in college football. His decision could pay huge dividends, but there’s no guarantee that it will. For all anyone knows, it could backfire.

We’ll see if Mora’s can cash in this fall.

Questions or comments? Email Strong at [email protected]

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