LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans went 4-0 against UCLA when Rick Neuheisel was the head coach of the Bruins, but USC will be facing a different UCLA team on Nov. 17, when it faces Jim L. Mora Jr. for the first time.
UCLA hired Mora, who had been working as an NFL analyst the past two seasons. But it wasn’t his TV personality that landed him the job.
Mora brought a pretty impressive resume with him to Westwood, a resume that features 25 years of NFL coaching experience as a head coach and an assistant with five different franchises, three of which I had the privilege to be a part of.
As a head coach, Mora’s style might not of translated well at the professional level, but it has a good chance to be successful in college.
When Mora first took over as head coach for the Seattle Seahawks, his first order of business was to clean house. It wasn’t necessarily the personnel that needed to be cleaned, but the overall team mindset. He wanted to stress the importance of what it meant to be on a team and what it took to be a good teammate. So he took a military-like approach to the rebuilding.
Throughout the offseason and into training camp, we were given different military creeds and told of stories of armed forces units and how they used and counted on one another to achieve their missions. Now by no means was Mora trying to compare football to war, but the concept of teammates supporting each other like soliders do is comparable.
That approach took us to Fort Lewis Army Base before training camp. We not only met the men and women who were stationed there, but also got an idea of how they worked as a team and how they built their camaraderie. Part of that training was going through one of their obstacle courses. Let’s just say that was one of the harder things we had done that offseason.
Fittingly, discipline and camaraderie are two of the main things the Bruins have been missing.
One former coach told me that UCLA’s program had become soft over the years, with players unwilling to work hard in practice and in the weight room.
Just a few weeks after taking over, Mora demonstrated his style by dismissing three players from the team for undisclosed reasons.
Some view this as Mora sending a message to his team, and I completely agree. But not only was he sending a message, he was eliminating distractions in his locker room and on the field. This UCLA team is going to be stripped and broken down until it’s built back up in Mora’s vision.
Althought Mora’s one season as Seattle’s head coach didn’t yield a great record, we were still one of the NFL’s most closely knit teams in the locker room and off the field.
It’s this foundation and style that allows teams to have success, and maybe Mora’s discipline will be what turns the Bruins’ program around.
A lot of Pac-12 fans are already writing Mora and the Bruins off for next season, I feel that is premature, as everyone will see a tougher and more disciplined UCLA.