The phrase gets thrown around quite a bit in sports when a new coaching regime supplants an old one, but the premise of a culture change has no universal or proven blueprint for success.
Many pundits throw out traits you’ll see on inspirational posters like discipline, accountability and toughness to describe the necessary characteristics of such a change, but it’s not as though the previous football coaching staff disregarded these traits.
This may cause some to ask, why will it work this time? What can this staff do that the old one didn’t? Can they take the same players and turn them into winners?
When Jim Mora took the reigns as UCLA’s coach back in December, he knew these were the pertinent questions, and it became his job to answer them.
He took those buzzwords and pushed them both on the field and in the weight room throughout spring ball and into summer workouts.
While the energy around the program seems to be improving, the reality is the actual functionality of these traits can only be tested during the season.
Mora, who has decades of coaching experience, knows this all too well.
This is why he brought out his best Denzel Washington impression by taking the team to San Bernardino for fall camp to get away from the distractions of everyday life in the same vein as Washington’s character Herman Boone from “Remember the Titans” removed his team from normalcy and forced bonding.
While the move was initially considered gimmicky by some, Mora plans to embrace the “Remember the Titans” methodology to refocus the team on being, well, a team.
“I want our football team to be together for two weeks where we can bond, work together, get to know each other better,” Mora said at Pac-12 Media Day. “So when we hit the rough patches in the road that are inevitable in any season, we know we can depend on each other and we know about each other.”
It worked for Coach Boone, so why not Mora?
While the aforementioned buzzwords are a big part of any program’s reimaging, it seems as though the best phrase to describe Mora’s objective is self-focus.
Too many times over the past few seasons, UCLA’s fan base and athletic department have looked at other football programs and said, “˜Why aren’t we at the level we should be?’ or “˜Why aren’t we doing as well as they are?’
After taking a moment to think about these questions, it’s clear that UCLA has an identity crisis. UCLA’s alumni and fans have fond memories of a program that once ruled the Pac-10 and, more specifically, Los Angeles.
But when it comes down to building UCLA as a program, they have to forget about competing with USC for the time being.
Everyone with a pulse on college football knows USC is a likely top-three program to start the season with as good of a shot as any to make it to the BCS Championship.
UCLA is coming off its fourth losing season in five years.
Instead of clinging to a rivalry that has been more lopsided than a Shaq and Kate Moss teeter-totter battle over the past few seasons, UCLA needs to embrace USC’s success, especially because it brings positive exposure for the conference and an increased competition level. That’s good for the Pac-12 as a whole and, as a result, UCLA itself.
This transition in mentality will not occur overnight, but, as rising senior running back Johnathan Franklin said at Pac-12 Media Day, it’s vital to the advancement of the program.
“‘SC is a great team and you’ve got to give them their respect,” Franklin said. “Of course, we want to be the best, but we know they have some great players and they’ll bring a lot to the table. I’m all for every team in the Pac-12.”
It is this humility and perspective that UCLA in years past has lacked. Even though it wasn’t Neuheisel’s idea, the “monopoly is over” mentality was accepted by UCLA players and staff. It left an unwarranted sense of entitlement that slowly poisoned the program.
UCLA’s fall camp began two days ago in San Bernardino, where players will endure the heat and hills of the Inland Empire for almost two weeks.
There may be no surefire way of knowing the impact of fall camp, but after only one day of practice, the intensity and body language of the players and coaches indicated that it’s going to be an intense 12 days.
Coach Boone would be proud.
Email Ruffman at email@example.com .