Monday, April 30, 2012
Mutual respect united Mora, Mazzone
By Kevin Gemmell
It was a meeting of minds that had never really met. Still, Jim Mora knew that he wanted Noel Mazzone running his offense.
Mora, who has spent virtually his entire career in the NFL, was looking for someone with deep college roots. But he also wanted someone who could give him a mental sparring match.
"In watching his offense, I watched it like a defensive coach would watch it, because I'm a defensive-minded coach," said Mora. "I'm watching his plays and wondering 'How am I going to defend that?' And I thought, I don't know. When it posed those problems to me initially, I thought that's the guy."
Jim Mora selected Noel Mazzone (above) to run his offense at UCLA.
And Mazzone jumped at the chance -- even though he only knew Mora by reputation.
"It was sort of the four degrees of Jim Mora separation," Mazzone said. "That's how coaching is anyway. There is always a little bit of a tie because you know a guy who knows a guy who worked with that guy. I didn't even really know him. A good friend of his was someone I worked with at the Jets."
Mora, who had been in broadcasting since being fired as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, had spent a lot of time watching college football. And he kept a close eye on what was happening at Arizona State, where Mazzone had served as offensive coordinator to Dennis Erickson.
"I love his personality," Mora said. "I love his energy. I love his experience. I know he's great with quarterbacks. Now I'm watching his offense and I don't know how I'm going to stop it. With all of the experience I have -- going against [Bill] Belichick and [Mike] Martz and Bill Walsh. Man, I thought, this guy is special."
And that's how Mora and Mazzone came together. And both feel it's going to be a mutually beneficial relationship.
"Well, I haven't missed on a third-and-short to keep the defense off the field yet," Mazzone said. "So we'll see what happens the first time that happens."
Mazzone's up-tempo spread offense comes from years of picking and grabbing what other offensive minds have done for more than three decades. His first influences were Jack Elway, Joe Gibbs and Don Coryell. Then he became friends with Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen and spent time with Mark Richt. Through the years, he's molded his own philosophy and approach to the game from watching others.
"There's not a lot of earth-shattering, unique, new ideas out there because a lot of this stuff was being done in the '30s," Mazzone said. "But an old coach once told me, it's not the plays, it's the presentation. That's how I think of offense. It's not the plays, but how do you present it. How do you present your team to the defense. I've just taken from my past experiences and built something."
And the results have been undeniable. He completely revamped a struggling Arizona State offense into one of the better attacks in the country in just a couple of years. Now Mora is hoping he'll do the same with the Bruins, a team that's been in the bottom half of the national offensive rankings the past few years.
"I watched a lot of college football these last two years," Mora said. "I knew Noel briefly and we'd competed against each other when he was at the Jets. We had common friends. And I always enjoyed his personality and approach. I think it's going to work out great."