Monday, January 27

Football’s offensive coordinator asked to step in as interim head coach

Former head coach Jim Mora was fired the morning following a close loss to USC. Former offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch took his place, and although players spoke well of both coaches, a couple were vocal about how upset they were to see Mora go. (Michael Zshornack/Photo editor)

Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s Sunday started normally. He woke up, went to work and began grading film from the previous night’s game.

Then he got called into a meeting with Athletics Director Dan Guerrero. The conversation didn’t last long.

“It was pretty short in that regard,” Fisch said. “Unfortunately in this business, changes are made (even) when you still have games left to play.”

That was when the former offensive coordinator found out former head coach Jim Mora had been fired and that the team needed Fisch to step in as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Fisch will take charge of the Bruins for at least one more game, possibly two.

UCLA football (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12) will get a chance to go 6-0 at home Friday against California (5-6, 2-6). A win would send the Bruins to a bowl game, meaning UCLA will have competed in the postseason five out of the six years in the Mora era.

Fisch and the two players who spoke to the media Monday morning all said they were surprised when they heard news of the firing, which the team received from Mora himself at an 11 a.m. team meeting Sunday.

“I don’t think really anyone expected it, so it was tough obviously to hear the news,” said redshirt senior center Scott Quessenberry. “Coach Mora played a big part in my recruitment, a big part in my life, you know, turning me (from an) 18-year-old kid into a 23-year-old man.”

Because Mora’s tenure spanned six seasons, the former coach handled the recruiting for every member of this year’s team.

“I think you guys saw the social media posts and all the stuff going on,” Quessenberry said. “Everyone on this team loved coach Mora, there’s no denying that.”

The fact that the firing came immediately after Saturday’s game also made the move more surprising to some. UCLA – a heavy underdog up against No. 11 USC – dropped the game by just five points.

“You know, we come in off a hard loss against USC, 28-23, and we weren’t expecting that,” said redshirt junior safety Adarius Pickett. “He was a little down from the game, a big rival game that we had lost, but we weren’t expecting that at all. I know I wasn’t.”

Mora’s eight-figure buyout also made the deal surprising.

“I just didn’t think it was going to happen at all. … I know UCLA had invested some money in him,” Pickett said.

One element of this whole situation that may not come as a surprise, though, is Fisch’s future. Quessenberry said he wasn’t surprised Fisch stepped in as interim head coach, and although he’s never been a head coach before, some are speculating about just how long he’ll be in charge of the team.

“If they’re thinking about coach Fisch as the guy, I think it would be a really wise decision,” Quessenberry said. “I think he would do a great job, but that’s not my decision to make.”

Fisch didn’t speak directly about a potential return, saying only that he was focused on closing out the season undefeated at the Rose Bowl and that anybody would like to be the head football coach at an extremely prominent university.

Addressing the media for the first time as a head coach, Fisch reflected on what he called the hardest challenge of his coaching career.

“Very difficult, very difficult,” Fisch said. “From the outcome of the game where we thought we played a really, really, really good football game, to waking up yesterday morning and coming in here to grade the film and prepare for Cal and being told an entire life-changing experience occurred.”

“It’s been a very sad 24 hours.”

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Sports editor

Gottlieb is the Sports editor. He was previously an assistant Sports editor in 2016-2017, and has covered baseball, softball, women's volleyball and golf during his time with the Bruin.

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  • Timothy D. Naegele

    Mora tied his star to Rosen, which was his downfall.

    Brett Hundley was a better QB. He could pass AND run. Yet, he is “languishing” at Green Bay.


    • Gary Ferrulli

      Mr. Naegele, Green Bay is now languishing under Brent Hundley, not prepared for
      the NFL. Rosen, if kept upright and not bashed by defensive players, is a far better quarterback. Hundley is a superb athlete and in college excelled because of it. But to suggest that he is a better quarterback than Rosen just isn’t factual.
      On Coach Mora’s downfall, he is thought of as a defensive genius, but look at the records, even in the Hundley days. Mediocre to poor defenses, they can’t tackle or stop the run. It could be recruiting as we have heard from former UCLA coaches that it is a difficult place to get competitive when recruiting because of the relatively severe budget constraints. That’s not on the coach, and remember when Bruin fans had the “have you got 100” shirts came out in 2006, meaning NCAA titles? How many since? that’s on the sports program under the Athletic Director. It depends on what the school wants from its athletic programs, if it is big time champions, you have to pay the price to get in that line. And hire the right people. If you want a medicore sports program, keep the status quo.

      • Timothy D. Naegele

        Thank you for your comments, Gary. A happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

        I agree that Brett is a superb athlete, and more versatile than Rosen. Sitting on the bench waiting for a chance to play in Green Bay, and follow in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, is quite an undertaking for any young QB.

        I like Brett, and hope he prevails. He was a credit to the UCLA team.

        I agree with you that the UC system has other priorities than football. HOWEVER, when the football programs at UCLA are successful, they cover the costs of all minor sports, including all women’s sports. Plus, they are a factor in alum giving to UCLA and Cal, both of which I attended.

        You have said:

        “It depends on what the school wants from its athletic programs, if it is big time champions, you have to pay the price to get in that line. And hire the right people. If you want a medicore sports program, keep the status quo.”

        True. My guess is that unless the AD produces, he is on his way out too.

        . . .

        And then there is the mess with the three students who were picked up for shoplifting in China. My guess is that they will be expelled.

        • Gary Ferrulli

          I think we essentially agree, although you don’t comment on Rosen. He will go very high in the NFL draft because of his football IQ, and his ability to throw all of the required passes with an added bonus that he allows receivers to catch the ball in stride and get the all important yards after catch. His receivers YAC is very high because of that. It would have been better had his receiving corps stayed healthy.

          On the three basketball players, not sure; many athletes have over the years done far worse and some not even suspended. Quarterback of the Tampa Bay Bucs, Jameis Winston is prime example. Certainly it is a schools decision and UC may have a higher standard than Florida State. The crime, while stupid and classless, was relatively minor except in China. Having traveled there on business 37 times, they don’t tolerate people who do wrong. But these are 18 year old kids, who, while they should know better, showed poor judgement – just like 90+% of us did at that age in one way or another. I would be inclined to keep them on suspension for a significant time, maybe the year, and then let them resume their basketball activities after they convince the coach, athletic director and school officials that they are worthy of their return. The joker in that deck is Mr. Ball and I’m not so sure he is worth the trouble, but we shouldn’t penalize the kids because of their parents..
          A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours; , and wish the Bruins well against Cal.
          Gary Ferrulli