Throughout the week, I’ll be bringing you some of the opening words from the new UCLA assistant coaches. A very energetic group, with a common purpose. We’ll continue with new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who came to the Bruins from Arizona State.
Jon Gold: Probably your most important task this year will be to find a productive starting quarterback, and I’m reminded by something Trent Dilfer said about elite quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees. If you put a bunch of them in the car, who would get the keys and drive? How does that relate to UCLA?
Noel Mazzone: Here would be my rebuttal to Trent’s statement. If you have that group of guys that you’re trying to decide who you’re giving the keys to, that car would never move an inch. All five of them sumbitches are going to be fighting over the keys. That’s the guy I’m looking for. Competition builds great football teams. Competition builds championships. I tell these guys when I recruit them, you may be Scout, Rivals, ESPN, whatever, five-star prospect and you know what I’m going to do next year? I’m going to find a guy to beat you out. That’s how it should be. ‘You’re my guy for the next four years?’ No. I’m getting a guy to beat you out. And if he doesn’t beat you out, guess what? He’s getting you better every day. We’re looking at that for every position.”
JG:You got things turned around at Arizona State in a snap. What makes you think you can do that with this group? Faith in the system? Faith in your personality? Faith in the players?
Mazzone: It’s faith in the whole program. Alright? First of all, you are UCLA. Right? There’s a lot of good football players on this football team. There always is. I want my kids to play with confidence, shouldn’t I have confidence in what I’m preaching? Shouldn’t I be committed to what I’m coaching if I want them committed? Shouldn’t I have a passion for what I’m coaching, if I want them to have passion? Any coach you talk to can tell you that answer. Honestly, I’m a very short term goal guy. I really believe in the idea all I’m going to do is play the next play, and if I put enough of those good next plays together, it turns into good things. That’s how I want our players to look at it.”
JG: One of the things I think I’ve realized in watching so much football the last few years is that the difference in talent is not as important as the difference in tempo and speed of a team. Crispness. When you inherit a team, how do you start to improve that? What’s the first step in that? Have you taken that first step, or does that happen in the spring or even fall?
Mazzone:No, I think it started the first day Jim Mora showed up on campus. You look at the pace he put together he put together a staff, you look at the pace we took to make arguably a top-10, top-15 recruiting class. If I want you to play fast, I have to coach you fast, we have to practice fast. We have to be accountable. All those attributes you’re looking for in a really successful program, it’s not just done on the field. You have to do that in the classroom, meeting room, when you take your girlfriend on a date. You have to live it. I keep thinking I want guys who have a passion for what he’s doing. Those are the people I want to be around.”
JG: When you’re dealing with 18 year olds, sometimes the message gets lost in translation. How quickly do you want these guys to acclimate themselves to your style? Will there be a learning curve?
Mazzone:“There’s going to be a learning curve. What you want to be is exponential learning curve. That’s what you try for. There’s going to be a curve, everybody knows that, in anything you do, but that curve needs to grow exponentially. When it hits that, I don’t know. Who knows? Could it be second week of spring, second week of two-a-days, could be the second game. I’m a football coach. I want it to be perfect day one, reality is that possible? Possible, but it will be tough. If you could ask them to never stay the same, never worse. Every day, if we can just get two percent better from day one to day two, within 15 practices, we’re 30 percent better, with just a two percent increase. If we’re 30 percent better after 15 practices, then we’re 30 percent closer to where we need to be. Is there a process? Of course there is.”
JG: How excited are you with this group? I assume you took a look at the roster before you came in here, or did you not? What intrigued you?
Mazzone:“I tell you what intrigued me about this job. Coach Mora. That’s it. That did it. And the guys who he put in place to be on the staff with. This whole thing is about relationships. It’s about your staff’s relationships, your relationship with your players, with the rest of the building, the equipment guy. Now if you get everybody on that common thread, that common goal, it’s kind of like this.
“I went into a school a couple years back and I’m walking by the equipment room and there’s a student-assistant in there folding towels and I say, ‘Hey man, how ya doin? What are you doing?’ He looks at me and says ‘I’m working to win a national championship.’ When everybody has that, even the student assistant who’s folding towels, that he’s folding them sumbitches the best he can, you’re set. That may be the factor in winning a national championship, you never know. When you get that feeling, it becomes contagious. And I think that’s happening here.”