Two years and 19 wins in, it is clear that hiring Jim Mora was, and is, a good decision.
In leading UCLA to its first 10-win season since 2005, he has answered just about every question mark that once appeared on his resume, and reversed a number of bad habits that once plagued UCLA football.
But a quick look back to the period before Mora’s hiring brings up memories of then Boise State coach Chris Petersen – ironically the new head coach for Washington, Mora’s alma mater – staying put in Idaho for what was, at the time, a better job. Names like former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and even former Chiefs and Jets coach Herm Edwards were thrown around.
At the time, Mora did not exactly sound like an exciting hire.
Early skepticism surrounding the coach was certainly justified – Mora was fired from two National Football League head coaching posts in four years and had little to no experience coaching at the collegiate level. His last non-NFL job was as a graduate assistant coach for Washington in 1984.
Many questioned whether Mora – once considered an NFL lifer – would be able to recruit, something he had never been asked to do before. Two years later, Mora’s decision to hire offensive line coach Adrian Klemm and retain defensive line coach Angus McClure, both competent recruiters, has helped bring in strong recruit classes in 2012 and 2013.
Past UCLA teams had been considered soft and undisciplined, two descriptors ill-fit for Mora’s squad.
Thanks to hires such as Sal Alosi, UCLA’s strength and conditioning coordinator, as well as the new no-nonsense culture Mora has pushed, adjectives like tough and aggressive are now better suited for Bruin football.
On Tuesday, UCLA – a team that has struggled mightily in recent bowl appearances – routed the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Sun Bowl, and the Bruins can be satisfied with how far they have come. But according to Mora, UCLA’s 10th win this season is just a stepping stone to better, rosier things for his program.
“(Reaching 10 wins) hasn’t been done a lot at UCLA and it’s a goal on the way to some other goals,” Mora said after the game. “We’re on a journey. We’ve got a destination in mind and it’s going to take us a while to get there but it’s just another step in the right direction.”
Mora’s UCLA football team is not perfect, especially against top-flight Pac-12 programs like Stanford and Oregon. But it is clear Mora has learned from his past failures and his enthusiasm has been contagious among his players and the team’s fans.
With demonstrated early success, media know-how and most importantly a hunger to improve, Jim Mora has shown in two years why he was a model hire for UCLA Athletics.