Just five days remain before signing day, and new UCLA head coach Jim Mora is ready for it to be over.
Not because he is not enjoying the process – put simply, he’s loving it – but because he’s just ready to get pen to paper and get to work on changing some things around UCLA.
Mora sat down for a long phone conversation about the whirlwind that is January, and how the coaching staff’s chemistry and energy is paying off…
What are your thoughts on overrecruiting?
“I’d never heard it, quite frankly. I know what we’re recruiting – we’re recruiting guys we think can come in here and win football games. We’re not overrecruiting. There is natural attrition when a new staff comes in, a new set of standards – not everyone is willing to live up to those. Those are the choices of a new regime. You hope guys just jump on board. But you look at the history of college football, and that’s not what happens. We have a plan in place to make sure we get the right players in here who are what everyone wants them to be, and that means coaches, fans, alumni and players.”
You’re always trying to get them a couple levels above it. You set a standard, you reach it, you push it higher. That’s how you create success. I don’t know that there will ever be a base level. It’s always evolving, always expanding. I know that sounds like coach speak, psycho babble – but true competitors, and I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot – that’s how they look at it, that it was never good enough. Standard? Then push the standard higher. That’s the kind of environment we’re trying to create. To be perfectly honest, when you’re dealing with 115 young men, it’s not realistic to think everybody is going to buy into it.”
The average age of Rick Neuheisel’s first staff was nearly 50. Yours is not even 42. Was that a conscious decision?
“That was part of it, but I never considered age. I considered passion – guys who were motivated to achieve, not just to survive. Certainly there was an eye toward recruiting, but also to good coaches with a good pedigree. Average staff you say is 42? Yeah, but there’s over 90 years of playing and coaching experience. It’s young, energetic but incredibly experienced. Yet there are only three guys left who really came from the NFL – myself, Jeff Ulbrich and Lou Spanos. I don’t know how the stars aligned the way they did, quite frankly. But I’m really happy they did.”
One thing interesting is the frequency with which we’re hearing the names of assistant coaches brought up by recruits. So often with the last regime, they’d only credit Rick Neuheisel…
“When you talk recruiting, there should be very little said about Jim Mora. I should be a footnote at all times.”
Talk about staff chemistry, because that seemed to be a real issue the last couple years, with about half the staff 55-plus and the other half under 40…
“I really have never been on a staff without good staff chemistry. I know that I’m happy with our staff chemistry. I think our guys have genuine appreciation for and like each other. Bunch of guys who have a passion for what they do, want to be the best at what they do and want to achieve not survive. There’s a distinct difference between a coach who is just putting in hours before he can go home and a coach who says, ‘How can I be better today and make the people around me be better today?’ If you ever worked in this environment, you know how it is. I wanted guys with that fire. I had a choice, to concede the class or attack. We put everything else on backburner.”