- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jim Mora wasn't sure how his first year as a college coach was going to go. After spending 25 years in the NFL, he knew he might have to make a couple of tweaks here and there to the way he goes about doing things. But his principles? His beliefs? He wasn't going to change those despite going from paid personnel to amateur student-athletes.
"I've always coached with a lot of passion," Mora said. "I've always coached hard. I've always been brutally honest and I've always been compassionate. But I've found myself being more compassionate this year. I've always cared deeply about my players. That's always been one of my strengths, and one of my weaknesses as well. This year I feel like it is less of a weakness and more of a strength."
Mora is one of three head coaches in the Pac-12 who have also been head coaches in the NFL. Along with Lane Kiffin (USC/Oakland Raiders) and Mike Riley (Oregon State/San Diego Chargers), Mora has had to make the transition from coaching professional athletes to mentoring teens two months removed from the senior prom.
With that transition comes different techniques for motivating players. Or in the case of the college players, finding the proper channels for that motivation.
"I think it's night and day," Mora said. "My entire coaching experience, until this year, has really been at the NFL level. You expect, to a certain extent, that NFL players, professionals, are going to be able to self-motivate. And yet you still have to provide an avenue for motivating them. You have to provide a blueprint. You have to provide each week a plan for them.
"But these college kids are so much more pure and raw. There is so much more emotion and they are so much more emotional. It's trickier. You have to be able manage the highs and lows, but it's so much more exciting because you throw something out there and they take it and run with it. So much fun. Gosh, it's so much fun."
Riley's career -- which started in 1975 and has run the gamut from small college ball and the Canadian Football League to the NFL and Pac-10/12 -- has been marked by one major consistency: he himself. A certain Pac-12 blogger can testify that Riley is the exact same coach now as he was when he was with the Chargers.
"I really don't think I've changed," he said. "One of the things my dad taught me a long time ago, he was a coach, he said 'Mike, you have to be yourself. You can't try to be somebody else because players see through phonies right away.' Even though we didn't do well in San Diego -- well enough to stay there -- I had some great leaders on that team. Despite our record, those guys I think played hard all of the time and tried to win."
Now Mora and Riley have their teams going to the league's upper-tier bowl games aside from the BCS games. The Beavers take on Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, and the Bruins head south to San Diego for the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl against Baylor.
And as Mora reflects on year No. 1 as a college coach, he couldn't be happier with the results on the field and in the locker room.
"It's so much more paternal," he said. "The sense I get is that they need you more. They look to you more in all ways for all things. For motivation, for direction, for guidance, for advice, for security, for comfort, for discipline. All of those things, they are counting on you. They are young, developing men and you become, in essence, a pseudo-parent. And it's extremely fun. It's extremely rewarding."