Click here to listen to the full interview.
Mora joined "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" on Thursday and shared his thoughts on changing the culture of the Bruins' program, whether coaches are responsible for mistakes that players make and more.
Click here to listen to the full interview.
Later on "SVP & Russillo" (hosted by Ryan Russillo and Danny Kanell on Thursday), Mora talked about the pressure facing the Bruins this season, compared coaching in college to coaching in the NFL, dished on his expectations for quarterback Brett Hundley, the strength of the conference, his relationship with the media and much more.
Click here to listen to the full interview.
Jones, the Gatorade national high school player of the year in 2009, played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore and, after getting only three carries in UCLA's season opener at Rice last season, announced he would transfer. After the season and after UCLA's Holiday Bowl game, Jones approached Mora and asked if he could return this season.
"He came in and said 'I think I made a mistake and I was hasty in my judgment and I’d like to return to the team,'" Mora said. "Our focus was on recruiting and I told him we didn’t have a scholarship but we’d welcome him back as a walk-on"
Jones rushed for 255 yards in 55 carries as a freshman and had 103 yards rushing in 25 carries as a sophomore. He had high hopes for more playing time going into last season after the graduation of Derrick Coleman, but felt that his power running game didn't fit very well with UCLA's new spread offense. He made it through training camp, but left after the first game.
"He’s a good kid," Mora said. "He’s a good football player. Sometimes you get derailed when you’re a kid and I don’t think any of us wanted to hold the fact that he left the team against him. We all wanted to give him that second chance because of the type of kid he is and because we believe in someone earning a second chance."
Jones will participate in spring practice beginning next week and will be in the mix at running back. The Bruins have big shoes to fill with the graduation of all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin and the competition for those carries will be among the most closely watched during spring and fall camps. Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Paul Perkins are also among the group competing.
"I have not made him any promises," Mora said about Jones. "I kind of feel like Malcolm is going to have a renewed sense of intensity and urgency in the things that I was talking about and I’d love to see it. I’m excited to see it. I’m excited to see him play."
Mora also said the school would inquire with the NCAA about getting Jones another year of eligibility because he played so sparingly in that one game last season. He played only on the final drive of UCLA's 49-24 season-opening victory over Rice.
"I think there are some special circumstances there and hopefully they’ll take them into account but we haven’t started that process yet," Mora said.
In other roster news, Mora announced that receivers Ricky Marvray and Jerry Rice Jr. have graduated from UCLA and will transfer to other schools as graduate students. They will be allowed to play immediately under the NCAA transfer rules regarding graduate students. Marvray had three catches for 18 yards in an injury-marred season last year. Rice, son of the NFL's all-time leading receiver, caught seven passes for 52 yards last year.
On Dec. 27 of last year, the Baylor Bears provided his UCLA squad -- a group still in its infancy when learning to deal with success -- with a slew of teachable moments. There were 49 to be exact, if you're keeping track at home.
Mora's UCLA team -- which climbed as high as 16 in the BCS standings in his first year at the helm -- was throttled by the Bears 49-26 in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego. After a 9-2 start, the Bruins closed out the year with back-to-back losses to Stanford and then the Holiday Bowl defeat. As always, Mora didn't pass on the opportunity to teach.
And to learn.
"It taught me that we need to get bigger, faster and stronger," Mora said. "They were a bigger and faster and more physical team than us on that night. Their players looked a little bit different than our players. Though we've done good things and come a long way, we're not where we need to be. Baylor was the best team we played all year. They were the biggest, most physical, athletically gifted team that we played all year and they took it to us pretty good. It was good for us. It was not fun. We would have liked to have a different outcome. But it showed us where we are as a team ...
"That put things right back in perspective for us. It was very humbling. We all realize we have a long way to go. We feel like we are headed in the right direction. But for all the good things we did, we're nowhere close to where we want to be or where we will be."
With the three-game skid, it's easy to overlook what Mora accomplished in Year 1. Like the fact that he and his staff took a first-year starter at quarterback and molded him into one of the most exciting players in the country. Like the fact that they took a running back/fullback at the bottom of the depth chart and turned him into one of the preeminent defenders in the nation. Like the fact that they beat USC, won the Pac-12 South Division sans the asterisk and grabbed a major chunk of the Los Angeles recruiting market.
He'll look to continue that success when the Bruins open spring camp on April 2. He doesn't expect any hangover from the way the season ended. In fact, he noted that his players are already "bigger, stronger, faster and more flexible" than they were heading into spring camp last year. A full year in the system should work wonders in Year 2.
Of great interest will be the continued maturation of quarterback Brett Hundley -- the aforementioned exciting player -- and linebacker Anthony Barr -- the aforementioned preeminent defensive player. Mora said he expects big things from both in 2013.
Barr's move to linebacker was the single most significant position switch in the conference last season. With only about a month to learn the position, Barr tallied a league-high 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss. A leading candidate for defensive player of the year, Barr opted to bypass the NFL until 2014 so he could gain more seasoning at the position.
"I think if he continues to progress, he'll be a top 5 pick," Mora said. "Talk about an impact player, and he's still so new at the position. He didn't go through spring at outside linebacker so he's been an linebacker for less than a year. The education of Anthony Barr as an outside linebacker started in August in San Bernardino. If he can come anywhere close to duplicating the acceleration of the position -- learning the position like he did last year and the improvements he made -- he's going to be scary."
And then there is Hundley, the wildly athletic quarterback who will be asked to do more with the offense now that the school's all-time leading rusher -- Johnathan Franklin -- is gone. So is his favorite red zone target, hybrid tight end Joe Fauria. Hundley was very solid in his first year, completing 66.5 percent of his throws for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns. But he was also sacked 52 times. Part of that was a young offensive line. Part of that was Hundley. As his understanding of the offense increases, Mora said he expects better decision-making from Hundley.
"He's so gifted and sometimes he needs to know when to trust himself and trust [offensive coordinator] Noel [Mazzone] and sometimes he just needs to let it fly," Mora said. "Everything he was seeing last year, he was essentially seeing for the first time. The first time he picks up the ball at our first spring practice, without having taken a snap from center in a competitive situation between the bowl game and now he will be a much, much better football player because he's been able to absorb all of the lessons from last year."
All practices, including the spring game, are open to the public.
The complete practice schedule:
Tuesday, Apr. 2 -- 7:00 a.m.
Thursday, Apr. 4 -- 7:00 a.m.
Saturday, Apr. 6 -- 10:45 a.m.
Monday, Apr. 8 -- 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Apr. 10 -- 7:00 a.m.
Thursday, Apr. 11 -- 7:00 a.m.
Saturday, Apr. 13 -- 10:30 a.m.
Monday, Apr. 15 -- 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Apr. 17 -- 7:00 a.m.
Thursday, Apr. 18 -- 7:00 a.m.
Saturday, Apr. 20 -- 10:30 a.m.
Monday, Apr. 22 - 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Apr. 24 -- 7:00 a.m.
Thursday, Apr. 25 -- 7:00 a.m.
Spring game at the Rose Bowl:
Saturday, Apr. 27 -- 5:00 p.m.
Willis (6-2, 199) is the No. 59-ranked prospect in the ESPN Recruiting Nation rankings and the No. 5 safety, though he projects to play cornerback in college. He becomes UCLA's highest-rated prospect according to the ESPN rankings. His signing brings UCLA's class to 24 players.
Willis had committed to UCLA in late January, two weeks before signing day, but did not sign on Wednesday because, he said, his mother was out of town and unable to sign the letter of intent. Willis was also being pursued by Louisiana State, USC, Florida and Oregon, among others.
Mora signed 23 players Wednesday, the first day football players could sign, and the class is currently ranked No. 12 in the nation by ESPN Recruiting Nation. Of the 23 players, five are among the ESPN 150 and nine are in the ESPN 300.
Priest Willis, No. 5 safety in the nation and No. 59 overall recruit, did not sign Wednesday and is expected to still sign with UCLA.
"We're very happy with the class that we were able to put together," Mora said. "We feel that it fills a lot of needs or areas of concern for this football team."
Looking at the class breakdown, offensive line, defensive back and linebacker were the major target areas for the Bruins. Mora and his staff brought in seven offensive linemen, three defensive backs (with Willis perhaps still to come) and five linebackers.
Defensive end Kylie Fitts, No. 85 in the ESPN 150 and the No. 8 player at his position, was the top-ranked player to sign Wednesday. Asiantii Woulard, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 143 overall prospect, is UCLA's top offensive player.
The gaping hole in the class is at running back. Johnathan Franklin, the school's all-time leading rusher, left some big shoes to fill, but Mora and his staff didn't fill them. Craig Lee, a running back from Redlands, was committed but did not sign because of admissions issues.
Here is a breakdown of UCLA's class:
UCLA will open the season against Nevada Aug. 31 at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins opened at Rice last season, at Houston the year before and at Kansas State in 2010. After a Bye on Sept. 7, the Bruins will play at Nebraska before rounding out non-conference play against New Mexico State Sept. 21 at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA will then begin defense of its Pac-12 South Division title with a Thursday game at Utah on Oct. 3. The schedule includes a brutal stretch in which UCLA plays at Stanford and at Oregon in back-to-back weeks Oct. 19 and 26 then at Arizona two weeks later followed by a Friday home game against Washington on Nov. 15. The crosstown rivalry game against USC has returned to its traditional spot as the regular-season finale on Nov. 30.
The complete schedule:
Aug. 31 Nevada
Sept. 7 Bye
Sept. 14 at Nebraska
Sept. 21 New Mexico State
Sept. 28 Bye
Oct. 3 at Utah (Thursday)
Oct. 12 California
Oct. 19 at Stanford
Oct. 26 at Oregon
Nov. 2 Colorado
Nov. 9 at Arizona
Nov. 15 Washington (Friday)
Nov. 23 Arizona State
Nov. 30 at USC
It's what UCLA became this season compared with Bruins teams of the recent past, but a stumble to the finish line showed that they aren't quite big enough, strong enough or fast enough to play at an elite level just yet.
A 49-26 loss to Baylor on Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium sent UCLA to its third consecutive loss to cap a season of resurgence. The streak -- losses to Stanford in the regular-season finale and the Pac-12 championship game followed by the Holiday blowout -- showed that UCLA's rebuilding project is far from complete.
"We've got a long ways to go," coach Jim Mora acknowledged. "But we're on the right path. The team that we want to be is a national champion and tonight showed us just how far we have to go, but we're determined to get there. We're heading in the right direction, but we're a long ways off."
Much of the talk around UCLA this season focused on how far the Bruins had come in the first year under Mora. They put up an impressive early victory over Nebraska, came from behind in the final minutes to win on the road at Arizona State and ended a five-game losing streak to cross-town rival USC.
But Stanford showed two weeks in a row that UCLA was not strong enough, and Baylor on Thursday showed that the Bruins are not yet fast enough.
"There are still a lot of little things that need to get done," safety Andrew Abbott said. "UCLA is right there. We broke through so many things this year and now we just need to break through the top. I know coach Mora will get the players there."
Experience should help. What needs to be remembered about this UCLA team is that few projected it to be in this position in the first place. Eight wins was thought to be the ceiling for the team, so getting to nine has to be considered a success.
Still, with each victory the pressure mounted as the stakes grew higher. UCLA hadn't been in a position to win high-stakes games for a while, certainly not with the current team, so the last three games should serve as a learning experience heading into next season.
"We have to finish stronger," junior receiver Shaq Evans said. "I think it's experience. I think the moment got too big for a lot of people because this is their first year playing and we have to learn how to finish."
The offseason will be littered with questions about just how far UCLA has come. Is this a top-10 team for next year with an emerging star, in Brett Hundley, leading the offense at quarterback? Or is this a one-hit wonder that benefited from an easy schedule and will be brought back to reality next season?
Certainly, UCLA took advantage of the easier schedule and seven home games this season, but what better way to bring along a team that was starting seven freshmen on offense at times. Next year, those players will be battle-tested as they take on a more difficult schedule that includes Oregon and Washington.
And knowing that the season ended with three consecutive losses will stick in the minds of the returning players, who vowed to use the losing streak as fuel to get better before next season.
"We're going to take these losses and really apply it to our offseason workouts," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "I'm going to remember them when I'm training."
It is a bitter end to what had been a sweet season, but the Bruins will still almost certainly begin next season in the top 25 and with hopes that they can get the program to an elite level. It's something that many would have put in the category of foolish pipe dream before this season, but nobody will be shaking their heads at the notion now.
For that, these Bruins can hold their heads high despite the disappointing finish to the season.
"I don't think it takes away anything from what we accomplished this season," Evans said. "The accomplishments of the season can never be taken away from one loss or the last three games."