UCLA football coach Jim Mora has been on a mission to toughen up the program since taking over as head coach prior to the 2012 season, but former Bruins boss Rick Neuheisel reportedly took issue with some comments his successor made earlier this week.
In a Tuesday appearance on The Herd With Colin Cowherd, Mora told the host he thought UCLA's program was "soft" during one of his initial interviews for the head coaching position:
Herd w/Colin Cowherd @TheHerd
Jim Mora on changing the culture at @UCLAFootball: I thought they were soft when I took the job. #TheHerd https://t.co/cUSbD7BqQG2/9/2016, 6:03:43 PM
The school evidently agreed, and the two sides formed a partnership that has produced a 37-16 record that includes two bowl wins over the past four seasons.
However, Neuheisel—who led the program from 2008-2011—explained he wasn't thrilled with the comments Mora made and those attributed to athletic director Dan Guerrero in the interview with Cowherd (h/t CoachingSearch.com's Chris Vannini):
We were 21-29, and I’m man enough to own that record. That’s the facts. That’s what we were, and I own it. Jim Mora has done a nice job at UCLA, but to hear Dan Guerrero say that we were soft? That makes me bristle, because Dan Guerrero never came to practice. He never came to my office in four years. Not one time did he ever come and be a part of what was going on out there.
This tough team that Jim Mora’s talking about, in the year he took over, they were last in the country in penalties. Talking about mental toughness? 124th out of 124 teams in penalties. The next year, they’re 122nd, the next year, they’re 117th, and this year, they’re 123rd. Something systemic about this mentally tough team. All he did was paint the walls black and wear black on the sideline and thinks that’s tough. I’ve been in the locker room. There’s all sorts of stuff about Sun Tzu and the Art of War and pain. He takes the team to Navy SEAL training. Congratulations. I’m glad you had the money to do it. But don’t talk about toughness with my football team. I’ll go to war with any of (my former players).”
Neuheisel also told Cowherd the athletic department hit him with an ultimatum prior to the 2011 season and said, "You make it to a bowl game, we’re fine." But despite qualifying for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Neuheisel was relieved of his duties after USC demolished the Bruins, 50-0, in UCLA's 2011 regular-season finale.
Although the jettisoned UCLA boss went just 21-28 during his four seasons in Westwood, his career winning percentage of .600 that was bolstered by stellar seasons at the University of Colorado and the University of Washington shouldn't be glossed over.
Mora, meanwhile, has his sights set on a bounce-back 2016 season. Following 10-win campaigns in 2012 and 2013, UCLA managed an 8-5 record last season with freshman sensation Josh Rosen under center.
Factor in an incoming recruiting class that's ranked 12th in the nation, per 247Sports' composite rankings, and Mora should be equipped with the tools to help UCLA compete for its first Pac-12 title since 1998.