Busy Mora riding 'tornado' of activity
The Bruins' new coach has a dream: to face his alma mater, Washington, in the Pac-12 football championship game.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Jim Mora felt test anxiety. That's when he really knew he had gone back to school.
Mora, the former Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons coach who had spent 25 years in the NFL, found himself sitting at a desk earlier this month, taking a mandatory recruiting exam for college coaches. If he was going to be any good at his new job — UCLA football coach — he needed to pass it.
"I was more nervous than I've been since taking the SAT as a senior in high school," Mora joked.
He passed, but he'll delay the celebration for another lifetime. Right now, Mora is too busy.
"It's like a tornado sucked me up, and it's taking me for a ride," Mora said. "I hope it will eventually put me down on solid ground. But this is exciting. I'm learning a lot."
It has been two weeks since he was introduced as the new UCLA coach. Since then, Mora, who turned 50 last month, has gone about establishing that he knows what he's doing. He is attacking this challenge with his typical zeal. He's the youngest 50-year-old in the world. In these two weeks, he has immersed himself in recruiting and created a buzz by hiring several reputable assistant coaches, including two ace recruiters who know Southern California in Adrian Klemm and Washington's Demetrice Martin. Mora also snagged Steve Broussard and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone from Dennis Erickson's old staff at Arizona State and promoted former Huskies quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo from intern to tight ends coach.
Mora has spent the past two years anticipating this career shift. For the first time in his coaching career, he took time off, opting to do television work for Fox and the NFL Network. He turned down offers to be an NFL defensive coordinator for the chance to take a step back and study. As a TV football analyst, he spent time with some of the game's best minds and learned how they see the game. He also examined college football from afar, and when it came time to pursue jobs this year, he received help from his alma mater, especially Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian and athletic director Scott Woodward.
"Steve Sarkisian and Scott Woodward are world-class people," Mora said. "Sark told me everything I needed to do, and everything I needed to think about as I looked into this. And Scott was a real advocate for me. They didn't have to do that. They could've looked at me as competition and not been helpful, but they weren't. I have so much respect for the fact that they looked beyond that.
"That's one of the things about Sark that's so appealing. He's a real guy. He's not phony. He's not some snake oil salesman. He's a real guy."
Of course, Mora must compete against his school now. He already poached Martin. Fortunately, UCLA and Washington don't meet in the regular season next year, so Mora will have time to get used to the idea of playing the Huskies. But when you tell him that, he mentions that the teams could play next year in the Pac-12 title game. It's his dream scenario.
But Mora is also realistic about the challenges. He knows he'll have to adjust to playing against a variety of offensive styles. He knows that recruiting requires more than just charm, and he's willing to do the work. And he'll be teaching more than just football now.
"I'm really looking forward to all of it, on and off the field," Mora said. "I have a tremendous opportunity to impact their lives. That's going to be fun for me. But mostly, I love being on the grass, on the practice field, talking technique, coaching effort and teaching them about the proper mindset."
The only hard part is that he must move his wife, Shannon, and four children again. He says he will give his oldest child, Cole, the option to stay in the area and live with some family friends for his senior year at Bellevue High School next year. He says he owes his son that choice.
Then the youngest 50-year-old in the world laughs at the thought.
"It's a little sobering," Mora said. "He was supposed to leave me and go to college, not me go to college. The roles are reversed here."
In football, as in life, the cycle tends to spin in a surprising manner.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2277