It wasn't random that Jim Mora, a NFL coaching lifer, ended up in college football. It was his specific plan. When his ill-fated, one-year tenure as the Seattle Seahawks head coach ended, he almost immediately started eyeballing the college game.
There was, however, no rush to jump at the first new coaching opportunity. He almost immediately was hired for broadcast gigs with the NFL Network and Fox. And the Seahawks were on the hook for the final three years of his contract -- a cool $12 million. So he studied the college game from afar and waited for an appealing opportunity.
"I felt like [college football] would be a good fit for my personality and what I was trying to get out of my career," he said. "I feel like I've got a lot to give kids this age... What's happened in the NFL, to a certain extent, because of the money involved, because of free agency, is there is a little less trust at times between players and coaches. That was bothersome to me. These guys are anxious to use you as a source of wisdom. And that is appealing to me."
Mora went full-throttle after the UCLA job. He wasn't the first choice. Or even the second. And his hiring was initially greeted with skepticism. But the momentum is on a decided uptick.
First, he hired an impressive staff, tapping coaches with significant NFL and Pac-12 experience, as well as coaches known for being outstanding recruiters.
NFL experience? How about 90 years and five Super Bowl rings? Pac-12 experience? Five of the nine have either played or coached in the conference. Ace recruiters? Adrian Klemm and Demetrice Martin, hired away from SMU and Washington, respectively, are widely considered two of the best in the business.
And then Mora and his staff transformed what might have been the worst recruiting class in the conference when he was hired into one of the best. ESPN Recruiting ranked Mora's first-ever class ranked 19th in the nation.
"Everybody seems happy now and we haven't even won a game," said Mora, perhaps a bit surprised by how quickly recruiting can enliven a fanbase.
The NFL experience was a boon in recruiting. It gave Mora and his staff credibility. When asked how he overcame questions about UCLA's recent run of mediocrity, Mora just waved away the issue.
"I didn't worry about the past," he said. "It's irrelevant to me what any team has been in the past. It's what they are going to be in the future. We talked about future. We're not going to wait to win. You have a chance to get in on the ground floor of something that we believe can be special. If you're a competitor and you like challenges, this is for you."
Now the focus turns to spring practices and the football part of football. Mora said he'll watch film over the next few weeks to get an idea of his personnel. Heading his to-do list: He has to figure out who his quarterback is going to be, with incumbent starter Kevin Prince trying to fight off what figures to be a strong challenge from redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. Richard Brehaut might not be a factor because he plans to play baseball.
As far as new schemes, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is a spread guy and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos is a 3-4 guy, but Mora resists any attempt to pin him down on schemes. A defensive specialist, he's been successful with both 4-3 and 3-4 looks, and he said he expects the offense to be "multiple."
"We're going to do what our players do best," he said. "There is no name for what we do. We're not pistol. We're not West Coast. We're not spread. We're not wishbone. We're not this, we're not that. We're just going to be a good, fundamentally sound football that takes advantage of the skill sets our players present to us."
The college game is very different than the NFL. There's recruiting. There are limits on practice time. There are boosters to deal with and academic demands for players.
Still, Mora is well aware that the ultimate measure in Pac-12 football is just like the NFL: You've got to win.