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Originally published December 3, 2013 at 6:15 PM | Page modified December 4, 2013 at 10:22 PM

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Jim Mora listened to his head, not heart, in staying at UCLA

Former Washington player Jim Mora’s ties to Seattle not enough as he decides to remain with Bruins.


Seattle Times college football reporter

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Jim Mora said no to Washington on Tuesday, listening to his head instead of his heart. That hasn’t always been his style.

He said he’s staying as football coach at UCLA, accepting an enhanced contract with more money for his assistant coaches. It all makes sense, unless you’re a devotee of the Huskies and you thought this was the time when it all finally lined up for Mora and Washington.

Not going to happen. I’m just guessing, but it’s a pretty good bet his decision had a lot to do with three factors:

He should have a heck of a team in 2014, especially if he can convince his dynamic redshirt-sophomore quarterback, Brett Hundley, to come back for another year.

There’s a seemingly limitless pool of talent in Southern California, reflected in the 18 true freshmen Mora played this season. When UCLA jousted with Arizona State for the Pac-12 South title a couple of weeks ago, the Bruins played 35 freshmen and sophomores.

Finally, and maybe this speaks more to the emotional side than the rational one: He has only been at UCLA two seasons, and much of his success there has to do with developing toughness and dedication so long missing from the program. As much tug as there is to Washington, it would be like him to wonder how he could run out on kids after preaching the virtue of hard-nosed commitment.

No doubt, matters of the heart had to weigh heavily. He has referred in the past to Seattle as “home.” His roots at UW run as deep as his walk-on days under legendary coach Don James. When Mora threw a surprise 50th birthday party a couple of months ago for his wife Shannon (a former UW cheerleader from Eastern Washington), he chose downtown Seattle as the site, not L.A.

That was the heart speaking. This is a guy who has sometimes been governed by impulse, from his ill-fated KJR radio interview back in 2006, to blaming his kicker for a loss to the Bears the year he coached the Seahawks, to reaming out a TV-production guy for talking too loudly during a sensitive moment in a news conference in September.

True, Washington has some tangible advantages over UCLA. The Huskies have a more reliable fan base and better facilities. Even Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday went out of his way recently to laud renovated Husky Stadium. UCLA doesn’t even play on campus.

Mora was making $2.3 million before this salary bump from the Bruins, and Washington likely could have offered $3 million or more.

But I’m not sure money would have mattered that much. What did was what kind of relationship Mora has with athletic director Dan Guerrero, whether he thinks UCLA’s word is good on its $50 million football-operations building announced a couple of months ago, and whether he believes football’s place is secure at a famous basketball school. If he couldn’t check all those boxes, it might have torpedoed his tenure in Westwood.

Mora might also have asked himself where it’s easier to win a national championship. Washington has done it more recently, but he’s at a program that projects, if Hundley is back, to be at least on the fringe of the discussion in 2014.

Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum, Mora’s good work was on display for the benefit of 86,000 fans and a national-TV audience. UCLA, a slight underdog, was crisp, focused and fast in a dominating, 35-14 victory.

If Mora had wanted, it was a great audition. Now he’s staying put, which has to be a massive relief to Guerrero — who has some dubious hires in his portfolio — and a source of pressure for UW athletic director Scott Woodward.

By my reckoning, before Monday there had been only three instances in the conference since 1950 of head football coaches switching jobs immediately to another school in the league. For a while, it looked like we might have two in 36 hours.

It wasn’t to be. The stars didn’t align for Mora and Washington. Again.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com




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