As UCLA took the stage at Gibson Amphitheatre for Pac-12 Media Day, coach Jim Mora was prompted by the moderator to make an opening statement.
Mora picked up the microphone, turned to the moderator and responded, “What’s that?”
The moderator informed him of the process at Media Day and Mora explained himself with a laugh saying, “I’m new to this, give me a break.”
Mora enters the college football world for the first time since he was a graduate assistant for the University of Washington in 1984, and Pac-12 Media Day served as a baptism of sorts signifying the new UCLA coach’s return to the college football realm.
Accompanying Mora were redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin, no stranger to the event, and redshirt sophomore safety Tevin McDonald, who, like Mora, was attending for his first time.
The three Bruins fielded questions regarding the direction the team was heading in the midst of a new coaching regime and a culture change.
One strategy Mora is employing to change the pace of the program is moving summer camp to San Bernardino ““ away from distractions.
“I want us to be in an environment where, if we’re going to talk to somebody, it’s going to be a teammate or coach,” Mora said.
“If we’re going to go out and do something fun together, it’s going to be with a teammate or a coach. I don’t want girlfriends there. I don’t want friends there. I don’t want parents there.”
As they spoke to hundreds of media personnel on site, Mora, Franklin and McDonald all talked of a Bruin football team with a new face.
When asked how he thought his coach and fellow player performed on stage for the first time, Franklin said, “Tevin handled himself well. He was a little nervous at the beginning but he got more comfortable with the more questions they asked. And coach Mora, as usual, did a great job.”
McDonald said he initially experienced stage fright.
“I was a little nervous at first ““ I’ve never been on a panel like that with people firing questions at me. There are some questions you’d rather shy away from and things like that and of course all those questions I got asked but I feel like a pro now,” he said with a laugh.
The biggest news of the day came after the group interview session. Mora said that incoming freshman defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy, the highly touted recruit, would be missing the beginning of training camp because of a knee injury.
Additionally, Mora said that UCLA has been in contact with players who are interested in transferring from Penn State ““ a school recently placed under heavy sanctions because of its alleged failure to properly handle instances of sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Players are allowed to transfer without having to sit out a season.
New faces with big names
In all, a third of the Pac-12 saw a coaching turnover after the past season, including UCLA.
Washington State, Arizona State and Arizona all welcomed new coaches.
These conference schools had no trouble finding prolific coaches, as the new Pac-12 Network created an influx of money for schools to use in their coaching searches.
Arizona greeted Rich Rodriguez, who last coached at perennial Big Ten Conference powerhouse University of Michigan.
Washington State stole the show with the enigmatic Mike Leach, whose fast-paced spread offense at Texas Tech contrasted with various off-field issues such as allegedly locking a player in an electrical closet in response to the player showing concussion symptoms.
Leach didn’t talk much about football but his team’s segment on stage was undoubtedly the most entertaining.
Leach talked about his new experiences in Pullman, Wash., particularly his fishing and bear hunting adventures.
Possibly the highlight of the event came when Leach said that he was “more of a Civil War guy,” he likened his quarterback to Stonewall Jackson and his defensive end to Ulysses S. Grant and began lecturing the media about the two generals to their amusement.
The results are in
The Pac-12 media selected USC as the favorite to win the 2012 Pac-12 Conference football title.
Out of the 31 times USC was picked to finish first, it had proven the poll correct 18 times.
UCLA, on the other hand, was selected to finish third in the South Division, but received two first-place votes.
Like USC, Oregon received 117 first-place votes in the North Division and was selected to finish atop the standings.
The media poll has correctly selected the conference title winner in 28 of 51 previous polls, including 11 of the last 12.