Friday, July 25, 2014
Mailbag: Jim Mora's commitment to UCLA
By Ted Miller
Welcome to the day after Pac-12 media days. Sort of like the day after Christmas, but you don't have a lot of new stuff. Other than a new Friday mailbag!
You can follow me on Twitter here.
To the notes!
Drake Bieber from Austin, Texas writes: I'm not a Pac-12 fan but I want to know what is the most important thing for me to know about Pac-12 media day?
Ted Miller: You're not a Pac-12 fan? Writing that might raise some NSA eyebrows. Do you not love freedom? Do you not love America? Do you drink white wine with a ribeye?
Know what my biggest take-away was, other than all the QB-luv? Strongly worded statements from Arizona State Sun Devils coach Todd Graham, Stanford Cardinal coach David Shaw and UCLA Bruins coach Jim Mora that they have no ambitions beyond their current jobs.
Now we know strongly worded statements of loyalty only mean so much in college football. Coaches are pretty much pushed into a disingenuous corner because of recruiting, as leaving the "never-say-never" door open is then eagerly highlighted by the competition and shown to recruits. As in, "You know Coach X is getting sniffs from the NFL, right?"
Graham's reputation for job-hopping is well-known, but he seems like a good fit at Arizona State and in the town of Tempe. His buying a big ole rock and roll love nest also is meaningful. Shaw, a former Stanford player and graduate, has told everyone who will listen the past few years that he views Stanford as his destination job and he doesn't want to leave. Mora was unambiguous, "I'm going to stay until they kick me out."
That, to me, was the biggest story, because I suspect Mora will become the hottest name in college coaching this season.
If the Bruins live up to expectations and win the Pac-12 South, perhaps win the Pac-12 championship game and reach the College Football Playoff -- a perfectly plausible scenario based on what is coming back in Westwood -- then he'll top many athletic directors' and NFL GMs' lists.
Michigan? Florida? Know that if those jobs open up while UCLA is surging, Mora's name will be hot among their respective boosters. If you're looking at the longterm picture, I suspect that more than a few Alabama boosters, imagining life after Nick Saban, have cued up Mora's contact information.
This line of thinking is why I followed up with him after he got off the podium, telling him that it was unusual for a coach to be that thorough in his statements of loyalty and contentment and that he seemed to be "all-in with UCLA."
"I am all-in," he replied with plenty of that Mora-ian vigor.
Mora also repeatedly expressed his loyalty to athletic director Dan Guerrero, who is not particularly loved by a vocal contingent of Bruins fans.
"I was never going to leave UCLA," Mora said. "Dan Guerrero went out on a limb when he hired me. Let's not kid anybody. I wasn't the most popular hire in the history of college football. I can promise you that. He showed real faith in me and I appreciate that."
Mora's early success and flirtations with Washington and Texas also played a role in fast-tracking some long-needed facilities upgrades for the football program. He deserves credit for that, too.
"I don't think that we're lacking a whole lot at all -- once that [football] facility is built, there are no excuses," he said.
College football has repeatedly taught us that nothing is certain and promises are easily broken. Further, a coach's star can fall as fast as it rose. Still, Mora's plain-spoken commitment to UCLA at media days is big news.
Khalif from Los Angeles writes: I love that Stanford is not getting as much attention as Oregon, USC, UCLA and others. Did people forget that we won the Pac-12 last year AND our offense is probably better?! Either way, this gives our team a bit of a chip on our shoulder.....which only makes us more dangerous. It will be nice playing the role of underdog again!
Ted Miller: I asked Shaw, Kevin Hogan and Jordan Richards if they viewed being picked behind the Oregon Ducks -- again -- in the North Division as a slight. They each cracked big grins and said no. I, nonetheless, was suspicious. A guy with that same smile once put a banana in my tailpipe, and I'm not going to fall for that again.
I tried to break them with my Jedi-reporter-needling-questions trick. I failed.
"I don't think we've ever been picked No. 1," Shaw said. "I'd be shocked if someone picked us over Oregon."
Now, if you were to ask me if I read something else into their wide grins, I would say, "Heck yeah.'
Yes, it annoys them. They believe Stanford, as an elite program that has proven itself with consecutive Pac-12 titles and four consecutive BCS bowl berths, should get more of a benefit of the doubt. Maybe they are correct.
That said, the reasons the Ducks are picked ahead of Stanford are pretty reasonable.
Stanford is replacing four starters on its offensive line. It is uncertain at running back and must replace its most decorated players on defense, namely linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy and safety Ed Reynolds. Oregon welcomes back four of five starters on the offensive line, a strong crew on defense and a fellow by the name of Marcus Mariota. And the Stanford-Oregon game is in Autzen Stadium this fall.
Would I be shocked if Stanford won a third-consecutive Pac-12 title? Not in the least. But, at present, the pick I'd take to Las Vegas is Oregon.
Brian aka UteGorilla from Salt Lake City writes: Ted, I know that I am biased but I strongly disagree with the newbies predictions for the South division this year. I think that Utah is much closer to Arizona than Colorado is to Utah. A play here and a play there and Utah goes 8-5 last year (see Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State) and all this talk about Utah struggling to "belong" in the PAC 12 doesn't happen. Mark this down, there is a very positive vibe around this Ute team and they will go bowling this year. The schedule is difficult for sure, but this team wasn't that far away last year and I expect them to be better this year.
Ted Miller: According to Article 5, subsection 2, paragraph 17 of the Pac-12 blog bylaws, you are allowed to disagree with us. Even if you are biased!
There's a reason Utah Utes, at 5-7 last year, ranked 40th in the nation in ESPN.com's Championship Drive Rating, ahead of many team with winning records. Against the brutal schedule the Utes played, going 5-7 wasn't that bad. And when you toss in several close calls -- only losses to USC and Oregon weren't in doubt in the fourth quarter -- there's plenty of what-might-have-been for the Utes, starting with what might have been with a healthy Travis Wilson behind center all season.
If the Utes stay healthy, particularly at quarterback, they will be a bowl team. What gives me the longest pause is the schedule, which includes both Stanford and Oregon from the North Division as well as a trip to Michigan.
But don't write off Colorado. The Buffs are going to be improved, too.
The problem for the teams in the bottom half of the Pac-12 is none of the teams in the top half seem to be in store for a steep decline. The problem for the teams in the top half is the teams in the bottom half don't look like easy outs.
HawaiianBear from Hilo, Hawaii writes: Ted, with all the discussions going on now about paying players and the worry about potentially losing olympic sports as a result, why are we not hearing more about the problem of ballooning coaches salaries?In my mind, a great fix for college football would be to put a salary cap on coaching salaries. No more arms races between schools to try to get the big name coaches would mean athletic departments would have more money for facilities, cost of living scholarships, etc. Saving just $1M/yr on coaching salaries (which is not hard to imagine) would free up money to give hundreds of players cost of living stipends.
Ted Miller: There is no chance of a salary cap for coaches. The reason is the free market. Top schools are willing to pay big coin, in large part because winning big pays off. While we might be shocked that Alabama is willing to pay Nick Saban $7 million a year, there are accountants at the school who can produce spreadsheets and actuary tables that prove he's worth it to the athletic program.
Of course, the free market that operates so well at the managerial level doesn't exist for the athletes. As is often in the case in this country, ownership of the means of production makes for a rockin' good time, while a suggestion to consider equitably sharing the wealth smacks of some sort of -ism. Like the dreaded "Fair-ism."
But -- BUT! -- if you start to give the players more, coaching salaries might just get pushed down a bit. While it sometimes doesn't seem that way, even the richest athletic departments have finite resources. If the players start to get a few more pie slices, that means someone else gets less.
Steve from Milford, Michigan, writes: Hi Ted, I enjoy your articles...That being said, what is going on with UW recruiting? I am getting a little nervous regarding the LACK of commitments. I thought coack Pete was highly regarded recruiter but I have yet to see any big names going to UW. What are your thoughts and do you see any top recuits heading to UW? Thanks
Ted Miller: Chris Petersen told me he's bored with recruiting and only took the job at Washington because of the delicious salmon and oysters available in Seattle.
The Washington Huskies have eight commitments, included a pair from 4-star players. That is not a big number, as the only Pac-12 teams with fewer are Colorado (7) and Stanford (6).
So you should panic. As I've told some Oregon fans to do this also, you might run into them as you are loping through the streets with a crazed look on your face. Understand: Just because you are in full-panic mode doesn't mean you should completely abandon your senses. You and the panicking Ducks fans should still vigorously insult each other. Otherwise, the galaxy will come untethered from its moorings and the entirety of the universe might collapse.
Or... you should realize that the Huskies very likely will sign a small 2015 class -- perhaps around 20 -- because they have a small senior class, though attrition could always change things (see offseason defections of wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow and defensive end Josh Shirley).
Also, would I be out of line to note that national signing day is a full six months away?