Pac-12: Al Golden

Rating the Pac-12 coaching hires

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
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Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel rated the coaching hires across the country this week, and he's clearly split on how the Pac-12 did.

He likes Mike Leach to Washington State — a lot — and Rich Rodriguez to Arizona. He's not so impressed with Todd Graham to Arizona State and Jim Mora to UCLA.

Here are his Pac-12 grades and takes.
Washington State (Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach): A+

AD Bill Moos looked past the controversy surrounding Leach's bizarre 2009 ouster in Lubbock and focused more on his 84-43 record and 10 straight bowl trips. The quirky offensive mind is a perfect fit in remote Pullman and already has the quarterbacks (rising senior Jeff Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday) he needs to lead the dormant Cougars to their first postseason berth in nine years.

Arizona (Rich Rodriguez, former Michigan head coach): A-

AD Greg Byrne knew exactly who he wanted, pouncing early (Nov. 21) in naming Mike Stoops' replacement. While Rodriguez's three-year tenure in Ann Arbor did not end well, the pressure is much lower in tradition-starved Tucson. He's reunited the majority of his staff from West Virginia, where he led the Mountaineers to two BCS bowls. Arizona is still waiting on its first.

UCLA (Jim L. Mora, former Seattle Seahawks head coach): D

After striking out with Chris Petersen, Al Golden and Sumlin, AD Dan Guerrero turned to an unemployed NFL lifer. Mora has assembled a nice staff and will likely make initial waves in recruiting, but history does not bode well for NFL-bred coaches. UCLA hopes Mora will become its Pete Carroll, but odds are much higher he emulates Bill Callahan, Charlie Weis, Chan Gailey, Mike Sherman ...

Arizona State (Todd Graham, Pittsburgh head coach): D

Forget the unseemly way he exited Pitt. Why exactly Graham is a hot commodity to begin with? It's certainly not due to his one 6-6 Big East season. He had three 10-win seasons at Tulsa, but much of the credit belongs to respected offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris. His one season without either, he went 5-7. But perhaps his fourth dream job in six years will be the one.

These divergent grades shouldn't be surprising. Just about everyone — yes, there is always some contrarian wackiness — believes Washington State and Arizona made great hires. And both Mora and Graham have baggage.

A lot of rating a coaching hire is about process: Did the AD get his or her first choice? Washington State and Arizona appeared to do just that and UCLA and Arizona State didn't. The lesson, taught over and over and over again, is that ADs always need to have a solid list of coaching candidates and Plan Bs in their desk drawer, and they need to move proactively and aggressively from the moment they decide to fire their coach — even taking steps in advance of the pending termination.

And, most important, the fewer people involved in the process, the better. The best search committees are made up of one person — see ADs Greg Byrne at Arizona and Bill Moos at Washington State.

Mandel also looks at "Ten impact coordinators/assistants," and two from the Pac-12 make the list, as well as a former conference head coach and QB.
Jeff Casteel, Arizona (defense): Defense was the bane of Rodriguez's existence at Michigan. It was critical he reunite with his highly effective former West Virginia coordinator.

Mike Stoops, Oklahoma (defense): Bob's brother returns to Norman, where he produced some of the nation's most dominant units from 1999-2003. The Sooners needed him.

Tosh Lupoi, Washington (defensive line): Steve Sarkisian sent shock waves through the Pac-12 by luring away Cal's ace recruiter, considered the best on the West Coast.

Jonathan Smith, Boise State (quarterbacks): Petersen tabbed the former Oregon State standout and Montana offensive coordinator to help mold Kellen Moore's successor.

UCLA taps Mora to replace Neuheisel

December, 10, 2011
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Jim L. Mora, a two-time NFL head coach with almost no college experience, is UCLA's new football coach, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com.

And UCLA made the official announcement a short time later.

Mora, 50, is currently an analyst for the NFL Network. He was fired from his last coaching job -- a single season with the Seattle Seahawks in 2009 -- after going 5-11. His only college coaching experience? He was a graduate assistant in 1984 at Washington, where he played from 1980-83.

Are Bruins fans going to immediately embrace this hire with buzzing enthusiasm? Probably not, particularly after Arizona and Washington State made splashier hires with Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach.

I like how ESPN LA's Peter Yoon describes things here:
True, Mora isn’t exactly the splashy, big-name hire many UCLA fans were hoping to land, but there are reasons to believe his hire makes a lot of sense.

First, he has no UCLA ties in his past. Second, he is a defensive-minded coach. Third, he has no noteworthy experience as a college coach.

That bucks the trend of the past three UCLA coaches who are seen as the holy triumvirate of mediocrity. Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell and Neuheisel were all Bruins assistants at some point before they became head coach; Dorrell and Neuheisel were UCLA players.


Before joining Seattle, Mora served as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-2006. In his first season with Atlanta, the Falcons went 11-5 and made it to the NFC championship game. His teams went 8-8 and 7-9 the next two seasons and he was fired. But keep in mind, he was dealing with QB Michael Vick -- a stellar talent with a terrible work ethic and attitude at that time, something Vick has owned up to after he got out of jail.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJim Mora takes over the head coaching position at UCLA, his first on-field job since coaching the Seattle Seahawks in 2009.
A former Washington Husky reserve who played for Don James, Mora is a defensive guy with a strong resume working with secondaries.

That last part should be encouraging for Bruins fans. His area of specialization is stopping the pass. There, you might have heard, is a lot of throwing in these parts.

Mora also has the potential to be a charismatic recruiter. The parallel UCLA folks are surely thinking of -- whether they want to or not -- is USC's hire of Pete Carroll in 2001. Carroll had little college experience and was generally thought of as a mediocre-to-bad NFL head coach. Just about everyone panned his hire and mocked then-athletic director Mike Garrett's bumbling coaching search (which was a true comedy of errors and sloppiness).

Trojans fans eventually changed their feelings. There's a possibility that Mora will do the same.

"As someone who has been around the game of football my entire life, I have always held the UCLA job in the highest esteem," Mora said in a statement. "Given its location and its tradition, UCLA is truly a sleeping giant and I realize that an opportunity of this magnitude doesn't present itself more than once in a career, so I jumped at the chance to be a Bruin."

It's fair to say Mora was the Bruins' third choice. Boise State's Chris Petersen and Miami coach Al Golden both rejected previous entreaties.

I know UCLA fans don't always appreciate using USC as a measuring stick, but, again, Carroll was the Trojans fourth choice after an 18-day search. He was widely seen as a lightweight.

So this is an outside-of-the-box hire. At the very least, skeptical Bruins fans can grab hold of that.

Further, it's worth noting that a massively negative reaction would serve no useful purpose for the program. In fact, 11 other Pac-12 programs are likely poised to print out such reactions and use them against the Bruins in recruiting.

Meanwhile, the Bruins will play Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31 with interim coach Mike Johnson, who took over after Rick Neuheisel was fired two weeks ago.

Here's the LA Times on the Mora hiring.

The LA Daily News.

And the Orange County Register.

What's up with ASU, UCLA searches?

December, 5, 2011
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While the bowl games were big news over the weekend, UCLA and Arizona State continue to look for new head coaches.

Here's some skinny.

At UCLA, ESPN LA's Peter Yoon reported that interim head coach Mike Johnson would like to be considered for the job. Here's his update on other candidates:

UCLA has been turned down by Boise State coach Chris Petersen, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions, and eliminated Houston coach Kevin Sumlin as a candidate after meeting with him on Saturday, according to a source. Al Golden of Miami is considered the next top target, though Golden recently signed a four-year contract extension at Miami.


There's some chatter out there about former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora, Jr. My take: That would be a good hire. While things went badly for Mora in Seattle, let's recall that he was the first choice to replace Tyrone Willingham at Washington. He's a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility that would translate well at UCLA. Recall that the last time a team in LA hired a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility who had folks scratching their heads turned out OK.

Here's Jon Gold's take in the LA Daily News.

Sources have said that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who met with Sumlin in Houston on Saturday, is essentially rebooting the search and at this point, there are no clear-cut favorites. Miami head coach Al Golden, whom Guerrero interviewed for the job during the post-Karl Dorrell vacancy, is among the candidates, along with SMU head coach June Jones. Sources indicated on Saturday that there was minimal interest in former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti.


UCLA has been the sort of job that more than a few folks thought might lure Bellotti back into coaching. But it doesn't seem, at least at this point, that he's high on the Bruins' list.

Meanwhile, at Arizona State, it appears that Sumlin might not be completely out of the picture, but that SMU coach June Jones' name is front-and-center at present. Still, there are plenty of other names in the rumor swirl. Writes Doug Haller:

Arizona State officials on Saturday met with SMU coach June Jones for more than three hours in Texas.

A report surfaced Sunday that ASU was in position to announce Jones' hire shortly after the university learned of its bowl destination. That wasn't true. According to a source, the Jones push slowed Sunday night. That doesn't mean it's over, but it could be an indication that ASU is having second thoughts.

Sources confirmed Sunday that Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora is still in the mix. Baylor coach Art Briles has emerged as a candidate.

I continue to hear ASU likes Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

Also, despite reports that ASU has backed off Sumlin, he still could be in play, especially if Texas A&M goes another direction in its quest to replace fired coach Mike Sherman.


In other words, neither coach search has moved -- at least according to reports -- decisively in one direction.

So stay tuned.

UCLA to play in Eagle Bank Bowl -- maybe

December, 6, 2009
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UCLA will play Temple in the EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 29 in Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium on ESPN (4:30 p.m. ET).

That is unless Army beats Navy on Saturday. In that case, Army replaces UCLA (6-6) and the Bruins will stay home for the bowl season.

Temple (9-3) received an at-large invitation to the bowl and will be playing in its first bowl game in 30 years. The Owls have experienced a football resurgence under fourth-year head coach Al Golden, tying for first-place in the Mid-American Conference.

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