As the University of Southern California sets itself up to go coach-hunting, the team across town is one that should help lead athletic director Pat Haden's push to fix the program. Unintentionally, the UCLA Bruins have reminded the college football world that getting "the right guy" is worth a lot more than anything else.
Yes, during the coaching search in 2011, the Bruins heard plenty of nos from feelers placed out to coaches. The rumors surrounding the job included "no thank yous" from Boise State's Chris Petersen, current Texas A&M and then-Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin and Miami's Al Golden. Yet, when the dust settles, heading into two full years since the hire, no one at UCLA is complaining because Mora's worked out great.
In December 2011, Mora was not received quite as warmly. Over at Athlon Sports, Coaches By The Numbers graded him as a D when the hire was announced. The Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers wrote about how the coach with so much NFL experience had the deck stacked against him with the UCLA job.
The hire of a guy many viewed as a failed NFL coach did not move the meter in a positive direction for the Bruins. Now, Mora's got a team with eyes on reaching a second Pac-12 Championship Game, sitting at No. 12 in the Associated Press poll and playing high-level football.
As Haden gets advice and folks kick around ideas for the head coaching job, getting the right fit has to remain paramount. Not getting the most high-profile fit. Not getting the candidate with the closest ties to USC. Not getting the top up-and-comer from the coordinator ranks or with NFL ties. Not linking the program back to the Pete Carroll glory days.
It is not about getting the hire that gets the already angry mob of Trojans fans the most excited. It is not about sating a lust for an offensive style, be it traditional pocket quarterbacks or a push to more spread principles. It is not about a 4-3 versus a 3-4 style of defense either.
Like every other job out there, USC is a unique situation with its own set of parameters within which the coach must operate. The Trojans have a higher ceiling than most teams in the nation, but early on they will be hamstrung by the sanctions, limiting what a new coach can truly do.
The pressure of the gig is immense; USC is a national program. With that distinction comes scrutiny that does not exist in more state- or region-focused positions. USC fans are a passionate bunch that not only care about winning, but what the wins look like; the idea of "winning with style" is something the next coach will either have to do or break fans of the concept by winning ugly—but winning a lot.
USC's specific issues are very real, and just because a coaching candidate is hot in the college football streets does not mean he is the best fit for the University of Southern California and everything that comes with it.
The Trojans have a new facility, a lot of money and fertile recruiting grounds to use in enticing the next head coach. Getting the right guy, whether it is the first guy or the third guy, is the most important part of the dance, as UCLA found out after being less than thrilled with landing Mora initially.
Haden does not need a big name; he just needs a guy that can do the job. Let the future coach make his splash on the field and not at the press conference, and the rest should take care of itself.