UCLA head coach Jim Mora
Just win, baby.
That famous mantra often uttered by the late Al Davis is completely apropos when describing the UCLA Football program.
The University of California, Los Angeles has a myriad of inherent advantages that not many colleges can match. For one, the educational aspect is impressive. Not only is UCLA regarded as the second-best public university in the nation, but it's also the most applied to academic institution in the entire nation.
Additionally, the campus is located in the heart of West Los Angeles, nestled amidst the "three B's" of Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air. In terms of picturesque beauty, the campus is also rather "easy on the eyes."
From a location standpoint, the university is also a stone's throw away from downtown Los Angeles, where opportunities from an entertainment and professional standpoint are bountiful.
For all of the reasons above, there's no question that the UCLA Football program should be a premier team year in and year out.
However, the consistency—or lack thereof—hasn't been there from a winning standpoint. The program has been embroiled in a malaise of mediocrity for upward of a decade. One decent season would be followed with a subpar effort the following year.
It's very simple: If UCLA can put forth a consistent, solid football product on the field, recruits would be flooding to Westwood in droves (even more than they already are).
That's just what UCLA did under Jim Mora in his first season. Mora's Bruins went 9-5 and accomplished a litany of accolades that not many people predicted before the 2012 season began.
What people don't realize about UCLA Is that the coaches aren't selling us the school... The place sells itself. All u gotta do is go see it— Caleb Benenoch (@CalebBenenoch79) January 26, 2013
UCLA made an appearance in the Pac-12 title game for the second time in two seasons. The Bruins also beat the Southern Cal Trojans for the first time since 2006.
The success for the Bruins also has a direct impact on their crosstown rivals. Not only did UCLA finish ahead of Southern Cal in the South Division of the Pac-12 Conference, but the Bruins are likely to bring in a higher-ranked recruiting class during the 2013 cycle as a result.
How did this happen?
The Trojans have dominated the college football landscape in Los Angeles since Pete Carroll first set foot on campus 13 years ago. Southern Cal commanded the "wow factor" with recruits and churned out players to the NFL regularly.
There are two aspects that have the Trojans on the downswing currently. One relates heavily to the NCAA-imposed sanctions, and the other rests solely with the hiring of Lane Kiffin.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any collegiate program. Yes, the "X's and O's" are very important, but in order to compete for national championships, you've got to have the "Jimmys and the Joes."
Due to the scholarship sanctions, the Trojans are very limited in the amount of recruits they can sign each year. As a result, it puts a massive impetus on Kiffin and his staff to truly "hit" on all of his signings. There isn't a ton of wiggle room from a personnel standpoint.
Due to depth issues, it's almost imperative that the impressive list of star-studded signees pan out. Naturally, every class will fall victim to injuries, defections and the possibility that some prospects just won't develop as well as initially thought.
For Southern Cal, the scholarship restrictions have effectively neutralized any possible depth on the roster. It also forces the team to practice in a different manner. There is less live hitting during practice sessions, and that has had an adverse effect on the ability of the team to tackle well.
The team has also had major misses when it's come to recruiting in the past few years. All-everything recruits such as Dillon Baxter, Markeith Ambles, Kyle Prater, Patrick Hall and Devon Kennard have either not performed up to par or have transferred out.
Again, this comes back to Kiffin.
Kiffin has an inordinate amount of baggage that's followed him throughout his professional career as a head coach.
He was unceremoniously fired as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in a bizarre public display by former owner Al Davis. There, Kiffin was accused of being unfaithful throughout his tenure.
Kiffin then took the head post at the University of Tennessee—before leaving after one year to take the job at Southern Cal. The departure from Knoxville precipitated a "lynch mob" of sorts by an angry fanbase and even prompted one prominent Knoxville writer to call the Kiffin era "the lowest note of a low time for Tennessee football."
Trouble seems to follow Kiffin wherever he goes, and it's no different at his current position.
During this current recruiting cycle, Kiffin has ruffled more than a few feathers with a prominent high school football program in the Southland. Four-star prospect and longtime Southern Cal commitment Kylie Fitts (Redlands East Valley High School) was all set on enrolling at USC after graduating from high school early.
While shopping for dormitory items with his mother, Fitts was told four days before he was supposed to move in that he would not be able to enroll at Southern Cal for the fall semester, and that he'd have to wait until the spring.
This set off a public firestorm, which was ignited even more by Fitts' high school head coach Kurt Bruich. Bruich blasted Kiffin's way of dealing with the situation.
Logically speaking, it doesn't make much sense to pull a scholarship from a player the caliber of Fitts. From a speculation standpoint, the Trojans may have taken Fitts' loyalty for granted. His promised scholarship was needed for another recruit, and it ultimately bit the Trojans in the backside.
Needless to say, Fitts decided to decommit and entertain other options. Ironically enough, he chose to sign with UCLA.
Similarly, wide receiver Eldridge Massington was also set to enroll early at Southern Cal. After suffering a torn ACL at a camp in July, the Trojans backed off of Massington. That opened the door for other schools to snag the talented wide receiver out of Texas. Like Fitts, the Bruins were able to come in late and sign the former Trojan commitment.
Recruits have seemingly had concerns about the direction of the Southern Cal program under Kiffin.
During this recruiting cycle, the Trojans have had a staggering six players decommit. That's very uncommon, especially for a program with the rich history of Southern Cal. At this point, the Trojans are projected to sign 12 recruits for this class.
This season, the Trojans have also massively underachieved on the field. Expected to compete for a possible national championship, Southern Cal finished with a paltry 7-6 record, culminating with an embarrassing Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
After the loss, there were even multiple reports about a locker-room brawl between a large contingency of the roster.
Who will finish with a better record next season?
Rumors then surfaced and will continue to swirl about the job security of Kiffin. Many speculate that he could be let go once the restrictions are lifted. There are also rumors that recruiting dynamo and renowned defensive line coach Ed Orgeron might be leaving for greener pastures.
Regardless, there's a definite difference in energy between the USC and UCLA football programs.
In terms of personality, Mora and Kiffin are seemingly polar opposites.
Mora is a fiery guy with an intense loyalty toward his players. He's a disciplinarian in every sense of the word and regularly brings a massive amount of energy onto the practice field.
Kiffin, on the other hand, is a somewhat awkward and surly man. He's also not very engaging with the media.
During his official announcement, Fitts made it a point to speak about the differences in atmospheres when comparing Southern Cal and UCLA.
The old adage is that the players usually take on the personality of their coach, and it seems to hold true in regard to these two programs.
More than anything, the win against Southern Cal this season truly propelled UCLA in the eyes of many recruits. It validated what Mora had been preaching, and it showed that the Bruins were capable of competing against their crosstown rival.
There's no question that the UCLA program is on the rise. The coaching staff compiled by Mora is chock full of NFL experience and recruiting prowess. As a whole, the staff has more than 80 years of combined experience in the professional ranks.
Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is not only one of the nation's top recruiters, but he's a three-time Super Bowl champion. That type of success will undoubtedly resonate with recruits from all across the country.
Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin is an energetic, tireless recruiter, and former NFL linebacker Jeff Ulbrich has turned into a great recruiter as well. Defensive line coach Angus McClure is perhaps the most underrated member of the coaching staff, and wide receivers coach Eric Yarber has coached multiple players currently in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos apprenticed under famed defensive mastermind Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh for over a decade, and he has two Super Bowl rings to show for it. Finally, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has worked with countless professional quarterbacks, including Philip Rivers, Tim Tebow and others.
Perhaps the shrewdest hiring was that of strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi. The former New York Jets coach has effectively transformed a flabby roster into one that's physically fit for the first time in what seems like years. It's no coincidence that the team had a relative minimal amount of injuries this past year.
The bottom line is that it all comes back to Mora. He's done a tremendous job at showcasing and promoting the university extremely well. He's also injected a sense of passion, discipline and professionalism across the board.
Mora has also done a masterful job at taking advantage of Southern Cal's shortcomings. There's no question that the scholarship restrictions are crippling the Trojans. No semblance of depth can be built with a shortage of tangible bodies, and that's a massive reason as to why the Trojans finished with a 7-6 record this past season.
All of the momentum is now with the Bruins program. The question is now whether or not Mora can sustain success and produce levels of consistency not seen in Westwood for quite some time.