UCLA, Mora could follow USC's path

Updated: November 29, 2012, 3:35 PM ET
By Travis Haney

LOS ANGELES -- Rare as it might be that a tenured NFL coach does well with a college program, and the failures do outnumber the successes, Jim Mora acts like it's no big deal, really, what has happened in his first season in Westwood.

In fact, in the days leading up to the UCLA Bruins' appearance in the Pac-12 title game, he sounds like a man who wishes he had found this line of work sooner rather than after 25 years in the League.

"It's just a perfect fit," Mora said last week. "I love spending time around these kids. I love their energy. I love their passion. I love being a part of that. I love their reactions when they win. I even love their reactions when they lose. I love being their coach through every up and down.

"I got lucky."

So why don't more NFL-turned-college guys win?

"I don't know, really," Mora said. "I think that's really overplayed, myself. Good coaches are good coaches. Good coaches adapt."

I recall covering a few of Mora's games and news conferences when he coached the Atlanta Falcons. It was late in the year in 2006 and he seemed worn thin by most everything. But Friday inside the UCLA football offices, he had the same pep to his step as when I attended the Bruins' spring game.

A couple of days after the spring game, I had a few minutes with USC coach Lane Kiffin. When I told him I'd been to the Rose Bowl, he asked me what I thought of Mora and the new-look Bruins. I told Kiffin I was surprised by the number of athletes he had -- and especially by freshman quarterback Brett Hundley's command of the offense and his overall fluidity, even though Hundley wasn't officially named QB1 until August. He was smooth.

Little did I know in early May how things would turn out -- that the Bruins would lap the Trojans in the Battle for L.A. and show the potential to challenge for the title of the city's top program in future seasons.