Jim Mora eager to start at UCLA
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA officially introduced Jim L. Mora as football coach during a press conference Tuesday on campus, but Mora will not take the reins of the team until after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
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Mora replaces Rick Neuheisel, who went 21-29 in four seasons and lost the inaugural Pac-12 title game to Oregon this month. Interim coach Mike Johnson and the rest of the UCLA staff will stay on to run practices, game plan and coach the Bruins for UCLA's Dec. 31 game against Illinois at AT&T Park in San Francisco while Mora focuses on hiring a new staff and recruiting.
"I think it's important for me not to be a distraction other than what is the obvious," Mora said. "I want the players that are seniors and the coaches who have worked so hard to get into this position to be able to enjoy the experience as much as they can."
In order to accommodate the possibility of simultaneous coaching staffs, UCLA has received a waiver from the NCAA that allows the Bruins to have more coaches than the maximum of nine currently allowed.
Only seven coaches are allowed to be recruiting at one time, however. Mora has yet to hire any assistant coaches, but when he does, a member of the current staff will have to cease recruiting activities.
Mora met with the team for about 15 minutes following practice Tuesday morning before his introductory press conference and was scheduled to meet individually with the members of the current coaching staff Tuesday evening.
The message of the meeting was simple: Discipline.
"I think it's important we create a culture of accountability here," Mora said. "Accountability to our rules and regulations, accountability to your teammates, accountability to yourself and accountability to this institution. If we ask someone to do something, we're going to expect that they do it."
That dedication to discipline was one of the things that made Mora an attractive hire to athletic director Dan Guerrero.
"There needs to be an identity in this program and the identity has to be being tough, being physical, being disciplined, being organized," Guerrero said. "And Jim brings all those things to the table. It's something that we needed and now we have that."
Mora also made no dramatic promises when the former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach arrived in Westwood. He only vowed to make UCLA fans proud of a football team that hasn't reached the Rose Bowl in 13 seasons, constantly overshadowed by behemoth Southern California across town.
"It's been a tough decade for UCLA football," Mora said. "This is a program that has always represented academic and athletic excellence, and I look forward to the challenge of returning this team to prominence."
Other than meeting the team and the coaches and holding a press conference, Mora's busy day included taking the NCAA compliance test. He "passed with flying colors," Guerrero said, so Mora can now begin recruiting and said he planned to do so as early as Tuesday night.
Mora has more than 20 years of NFL coaching experience but has no college coaching experience other than a year he spent as a graduate assistant at Washington. Graduate assistants do not recruit so Mora is going to have to learn that part of the college coaching job.
"Recruiting is one of the things that I'm most fired up to get going on because it's a challenge and because it's new," Mora said. "I love a challenge, I think I'll learn a great deal and quite frankly it's something I'll enjoy and I'll do well at."
Mora's father, Jim, the 76-year-old former coach of the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, is a Los Angeles-area native who retired in Palm Desert, Calif. The younger Jim Mora said his father probably will show up occasionally at Bruins practices.
Mora realizes the enormity of his challenge in stepping into the Pac-12, where Oregon's unorthodox offense, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and USC's pro-style attack dominated the current season. The Pac-12 only got tougher in recent weeks with the additions of Washington State coach Mike Leach and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, both masters of the spread.
"I've always felt this was a program and a university that you could build into a special, special place," Mora said. "This was the job that I wanted, and I was fortunate to get this job."
Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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