Today, the UCLA Bruins are getting their start to spring ball. They have a new coach, a new coaching staff and plenty to be upbeat about in Westwood. Rick Neuheisel is out; just four seasons at his alma mater was enough for the school and its fans to realize that Slick Rick was not the answer. Now, the Bruins have put their future in the hands of Jim L. Mora. Not Jim Mora Jr., people, he is simply Jim Mora and he is at UCLA to do a job.
The hire of Mora was not exactly praised by the UCLA fanbase, or the collegiate landscape in general. He was viewed as a bad choice. A worst-case scenario after you don't get the other guys. In short, not the guy people wanted and most certainly not someone most folks had much faith in. Personally, I was on the fence. Not against the hire but not totally head-over-heels in love with Mora, either.
In the last few months, Mora has totally swung this writer from on the fence to on his side. Mora started giving people reasons to believe in him early, starting with coming down hard against the ridiculous jumping over-the-wall tradition the Bruins have practiced.
That was a good start for Mora as it reminds the players of a couple of different things. One, it lets them know who is in charge. Two, it lets players know that your practices matter. Regardless of the "team-building" activities players might have wanted to participate in after skipping practice, none of them make you better in the same way that practice does.
And, most certainly, UCLA needs to get better.
But, Mora didn't stop there with just posturing. He embraced the job. He assembled a staff of guys that have designs on big success. A mix of recruiters and teachers that can bring the talent in and then get the talent coached-up.
That's what football is from the coaching side of things at the collegiate level; get the best talent possible and teach that talent the best way to do things, so you can win games. The staff Mora put together is well-respected, and they have already proved their worth through their recruiting efforts.
Mora and his staff went out and pulled in the 13th ranked class in the nation, despite having just over a month to establish themselves at the school. Now, with spring practice starting, we get to see the other side of what being a college coach is all about: the teaching. UCLA is a team that was not very good a season ago, so there is most certainly plenty of room for teaching and improving the Bruins.
"Those that won't [embrace adversity] probably need to find another place to play football," he said. "And those that embrace it, those are the guys that you want. Those are the guys that you want to go play football with on Saturday. I think you owe it to those guys that embrace it the way you want it embraced to eliminate the guys who aren't all in."
This concept of embracing adversity may seem like a small thing, but this is the type of stuff that does make me believe Mora can achieve some success for the Bruins. He's not pushing a gimmick, he's not claiming any schematic superiority or trying to get folks jazzed up.
Mora's approach says volumes about where his head is going into 2012; he has to find out what he has on this roster and separate the wheat from the chaff. Talking about being exciting on offense is one thing; letting folks know you want to see who gets up after they get punched in the face is another.
If Mora truly carries this attitude with him through the spring, then Bruins fans should definitely get excited for the improvements to come.