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Firing Jim Mora before the end of the season (let alone at all), and being a finalist and perhaps winner in the Chip Kelly sweepstakes vs. an SEC powerhouse just doesn’t seem very UCLA-like. An SEC team might operate like this, but historically not UCLA. And not Dan Guerrero. What’s different now at UCLA? Who poked the Bruin Bear?
In short: money. Specifically, Casey Wasserman’s money. I think it’s telling that Wasserman is involved in the search committee. (More on his role here.) As an outsider who moved here only a few years ago, I’m more and more fascinated by his influence in this city every day. He helped bring the Olympics to Los Angeles so if there’s anyone who can will UCLA football to prominence, he would be a very good bet. He put his name on the $75 million football facility and he doesn’t want it to languish away in mediocrity. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Under Armour’s money also has a big influence in this.) So Wasserman, and other high-powered donors/alumni, likely wanted to move quickly and gamble on a big-name coach like Chip Kelly, despite the disruption the mid-season fire caused for the players and the staff. The higher-ups likely heard that Florida was starting to move on Kelly and they knew they needed to make a bold move. It’s a high-risk move, to go all-in on one coach, but it seems that the group has a fair chance to pull it off.
Why do you think Mora didn’t fire Tom Bradley mid-season, similar to what was just done in Oakland? Could a swift change, coupled with some modest amount of defensive improvement, have saved him?
If you thought Jim Mora just sat back and watched from afar and privately stewed while Tom Bradley ran the defense into the ground, then you’re mistaken. Mora may not have officially removed Bradley from his post, but Mora surely took over a larger role within the defense, helping during practices, meetings and games. So I feel like if Mora would have fired Bradley, it would have just made more work for him because Mora would have had to completely run the defense and the team at the same time. I don’t know if a change and “some modest amount of defensive improvement” would have saved Mora. There are just too many variables to consider: when the hypothetical fire would have happened, what Mora would have done to the defense afterwards and whether the players would have been able to take to Mora’s hypothetical new scheme in time to actually improve. Too much unknown.
Which, if any, coaches do you think will stay if Kelly is hired?
If it’s Kelly, then I would expect a lot of changes. That’s just how it goes with a new head coach. It seems most probable that the entire offensive staff would change over because Kelly is an offensive coach installing a unique new system, so he would want to get his own guys for that. It’s possible one defensive coach may stay. Usually there’s one hold over when coaching staffs change. This is just me speculating for a moment, but I think Demetrice Martin would be a good candidate to stick around due to his recent recruiting successes and the fact that the secondary has probably been the best unit on the defense. (The bar is very low in that regard, though.)
Do you have a clue as to what is plan B if Kelly rejects the UCLA offer? Kyle Whitingham? Mike Leach? Kevin Sumlin?
I think the athletic department built in a small back-up plan when it installed Jedd Fisch as the interim coach. If it’s not an audition for him at UCLA, it can at least help him get a look at another place, because I think he will be a head coach somewhere sooner rather than later. I think the players would like that move, as well. Kyle Whitingham could make sense. He’s had some success in Utah and seems like he runs a good, disciplined program. The Pac-12 South to Pac-12 South jump could be a little awkward, though. Mike Leach, to me, doesn’t seem like a L.A. type of guy. But the interviews would be amazing. Kevin Sumlin, again, just to me, doesn’t seem like a great idea. His career in College Station was essentially what Jim Mora’s was in Westwood: a good start that petered out in the end. And would you really want to hire the guy who blew the second-largest lead in college football history to come back to the scene of the crime? I feel like it would be hard for me to get past that.
This is bound to be a very emotional game. Do you think the team stays composed (penalties, sound defense, etc.) or do you think it gets away from them?
I could easily see it going either way. I think the players played well the past two games (since seeing the banners flying around the Rose Bowl) and were motivated to play for Jim Mora. I think that emotion was helpful against Arizona State and USC (even though they didn’t get the win against the Trojans) and it should continue Friday. Adarius Pickett said he wanted to send a message to the university by winning for Mora and Scott Quessenberry agreed with the statement. Emotions are good, but it’ll be key to start well because the emotions can quickly spiral out of control if Cal gets off to a good start.
Thoughts on UCLA’s chances in the Chip Kelly sweepstakes?
It’s believed that it’s down to two teams so there’s at least a 50-50 chance. That’s not bad. It could also be seen as a positive sign for UCLA that Chip Kelly had a month to consider Florida and still didn’t sign with the Gators during that time. Perhaps he was waiting to hear from the Bruins — or maybe he was just waiting to hear from any other team. I’ve never been a comfortable speculator and I’ve already done enough of that in this Q&A for my liking. So I’m just going to quit while I’m ahead.
Was Jim Mora really the problem? We were unhappy with Karl Dorrell. Then with Rick Neuheisel. And now Jim Mora. Is it the coach or is there some else which is holding us back?
From the UC system’s academic requirements to having to share a market with USC, there are a number of things that are stacked against the Bruins, but I don’t think that necessarily means it’s impossible for the football program to succeed. I think it just takes the exact right person at the helm to do it. Jim Mora evidently wasn’t that guy. But he did elevate the program while he was here. He pulled in several top recruits and got the football-specific facility built. He established some order after what I’ve come to understand was an overly relaxed Rick Neuheisel era. Dan Guerrero and Co. now just have to hire the right person to get the team to the next level. It’s easier said than done.
As they say, control the things you can control. The academic requirements are what they are and changing the coach will never change the fact that USC also shares the city. The easiest thing for the administration to do is change coaches. So while one man may not be the root of the issues, his job symbolizes the easiest route to fixing them or at least overcoming them.
Who would be your choice for UCLA’s head football coach?
As a journalist, my preferred choice is the one that will end this coaching search as quickly as possible.
How difficult is it to get information on the coaching search from people within the UCLA athletic department? Are their lips completely sealed?
I can’t really answer this question on this type of forum.