Wednesday, November 28, 2012
The man, the myth, the Mazzone
By Kevin Gemmell
On the record, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is not worried about the coaching vacancies that are sprouting up around the Pac-12 and college football. On the record, his only focus is this week's Pac-12 championship game against Stanford.
Off the record, it's the same answer. And that should tell you all you need to know about the man. On the record, off the record, it doesn't matter with him. If he has something on his mind, he'll say it. He won't ask to have the recorders turned off first. When his team plays poorly, he says it. When it plays well, he says it.
He's quick with a joke, serious when he has to be and, despite decades of experience, he's still very much the archetype of a modern football coach.
But it's the moments before kickoff that he gets most excited.
UCLA's offense has shown a marked improvement in Noel Mazzone's first season as coordinator.
"I'm always a little apprehensive," Mazzone said. "It's like Christmas, watching kids opening presents. You've spent all this time going to the mall and doing your shopping and you think you made all the right decisions on what you bought for them, and then you get to go watch them for three and a half hours open the presents you got for them. And all you can do is hope they like it."
This week's gift is another shot at the vaunted Stanford defense -- which played the role of stocking-stuffers in Saturday's 35-17 win over the Bruins. But win or lose, Mazzone's impact on UCLA's offense has been significant.
His credentials are proven and unquestioned. That's why new UCLA head coach Jim Mora sought out Mazzone when he was hired. Knowing him only through casual acquaintances, Mora often talks about the times he was out of coaching and would watch Mazzone's offenses in action. As a defensive-minded coach, he often wondered to himself how he'd attack it.
Mazzone has ties to the ACC, SEC, Big Ten and the NFL. His recruiting responsibilities are Arizona and the southeast United States. It's not shocking that his name has appeared on several lists of potential candidates both within the conference and across the country.
"I've thought about it," Mora said. "Any time you are having success like we're having, and you're having success on the offensive side of the ball like we're having and a young quarterback is having the success that Brett [Hundley] is having, you expect to see your coordinator's name mentioned for jobs. I certainly hope that he and I get a chance to coach together for a very long time."
Mazzone's two most recent stints -- Arizona State and now at UCLA -- have yielded phenomenal results. Consider the Sun Devils of 2009, pre-Mazzone: 90th in total offense (334.4 yards per game) and 91st in scoring average (22.3 points per game). Now, look at Mazzone's first season in 2010: 29th in total offense (425.6) and 28th in scoring average (32.2). Last year: 25th in total offense (445.8) and 28th in scoring offense (33.2).
And the results have been the same in his first season with the Bruins. Last year UCLA ranked 56th in total offense (393) and 88th in scoring offense (23.7). This year the Bruins are up to 21st in total offense (475) and 25th in scoring offense (36). A lot of that obviously has to do with the play of quarterback Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin. But the Bruins have also done it with one of the youngest offensive lines in the country -- proof positive that the scheme is sound.
Not to mention they are the Pac-12 South champions (sans the asterisk this year) and take a 9-3 record and No. 16 ranking in the BCS standings into Friday night's title game.
"Beyond the Xs and Os and his expertise in that area, he's brought a certain standard of excellence to our offense -- the way we practice, the way we prepare -- and that's translated into how we play," Mora said. "He's got a very calm demeanor and a very confident demeanor, and yet he's always very self-deprecating and I think the players really relate to him. He has a tremendous ability to communicate to them on a level that they understand.
"It's not always what he says, it's how he acts. He doesn't sweat it. He works his butt off. He's smart. But even when it's intense, he doesn't sweat it. He just keeps firing. And I love that about him."