There have been very strong feelings from UCLA Bruins fans about what transpired in the hiring of new football head coach Jim Mora. UCLA was hoping to try and make a big splash with a hot college leader, but instead had to find a name that is hardly a sure thing. Nevertheless, UCLA has to move on and get behind their new head coach, even if they're less than certain at the results he can produce.
Ryan Rosenblatt is one of the main writers at Bruins Nation (our UCLA SB Nation community), and he discussed his feelings on the current status of the UCLA football program.
1. How would you rate the handling of the UCLA coaching search? If you were in charge, how would you have handled it better?
I'd rate the hire a one out of 10 because I suppose you get one point for getting around to actually hiring a coach. When you are ill-prepared to go after your first choice, Chris Petersen, inquire about but come up without even sincere interest from two others, Al Golden and Steve Sarkisian, and change your mind halfway through about whether or not you're interested in a guy, Kevin Sumlin, you've run a pretty god awful search. Oh yeah, and this came after stalling before firing Rick Neuheisel so quality candidates were snapped up and not bothering to establish relationships with possible candidates so you had a plan when Neuheisel was inevitably fired.
So how would I have handled it better? First, I'd have axed Neuheisel after the Arizona game and if I wasn't going to do that, I'd have begun setting up my list of candidates (which should have been done after last year's 4-8 season just in case) and establishing relationships with those candidates so I could move swiftly. I'd have looked at other coaches like Pat Fitzgerald, Larry Fedora and if you're going to swing a big stick by throwing around numbers like $4 million per year, I'm looking at a guy like Mark Dantonio too.
2. In terms of resume, Jim Mora is not an impressive hire. How difficult do you believe the transition will be back from the league to college given he has never seriously coached on this level? He is clearly highly energetic, but is that enough?
It's going to be a really rough transition for Mora. It's not an impossible one, but he has no real recruiting connections and you need to be able to recruit to do anything. He's shown an acknowledgement of this by filling out his staff with recruiting aces, which is encouraging.
Additionally, Mora is a defensive coach who hasn't seen any of the offenses you see in college football, specifically the spread. He said in his introductory conference call that he can't wait to watch Oregon on tape and see what they do. He's got no idea what kind of offenses he'll be going up against in college so there's going to be a steep learning curve.
The energy is there, but he's going to have to turn that energy into learning really quick because he's way behind the college game.
3. Which candidates do you believe UCLA should have gone after more strongly? Which candidates should have been totally ignored?
As stated above, I'd have liked to see us go after Dantonio, Fitzgerald and Fedora. Sure, pulling Dantonio and Fitzgerald would have been tough considering their recent success and/or ties to Michigan St. and Northwestern and the interest other schools has in Fedora, but why not try? Dan Guerrero came out pretending like UCLA was taking football seriously and willing to spend as much as $4 million on a coach, but the search quickly became a bunch of small names and outside of Petersen, he never really went after a big name. Big money, but no big name and barely even any attempts? Doesn't really make sense.
and Mike Leach would have also been guys to go after, but Guerrero was still debating whether he wanted to fire Neuheisel and then bumbling around the search while Arizona and Washington St. were moving quickly under competent leadership.
As for candidates who should have been completely ignored, the list starts with Dewayne Walker and includes Tom Cable, Steve Mariucci and Mike Bellotti. None should have even entered the conversation and Sumlin was never an appealing hire either. Yes, the list of guys to ignore makes up two-thirds of the candidate list.
4. Now Mora seems to have made some nice assistant hires to atone for his recruiting deficiencies. Who do you really like among the new assistants and why? Who is more of a mystery to you? What other hires would you make to complete the staff?
I really like his hires so far. Adrian Klemm is a young, promising offensive line coach who is a recruiting ace and Demetrice Martin is also young with nice recruiting ties in the defensive backfield. Steve Broussard has a lot of recruiting ties in the Southern California area, especially at Long Beach Poly, so he's a great hire as well. The Marques Tuiasosopo hire is his first real job so no one knows what to expect of him, but he reportedly got along great with the players as an intern last year.
The two coordinator positions are still up for grabs. Noel Mazzone has taken the offensive coordinator job, and considering the success he had at ASU he would be a great guy for the Bruins to get. As a defensive coordinator, we've got no idea because we don't know how hands on Mora wants to be.
5. Going into next year, what are the baseline expectations for UCLA football? What constitutes a successful season?
It may seem like a little much considering this was not a good team in 2011 and there's a new coach coming in, but the Bruins should win the Pac-12 South again. That's largely because the Arizona schools and Rocky Mountain schools will be pretty poor again and USC will be thin with scholarship reductions, the departures of Nick Perry, Ryan Kalil, likely , but this is also a program with pretty good talent. and maybe others
A lot of the team will be back next year on both sides of the ball and it is pretty experienced talent. Add in the return of Xavier Sua-Filo to the offensive line from his LDS mission and the Bruins have a lot to work with. There's talent on the squad, but it was wasted under the past coaching staff as some of it was benched in favor of inferior players and players did not improve in a program that was reported by pretty much everyone to lack discipline. The South should actually somehow be worse in 2012 than it was in 2011 and with the other top competitors in the division, USC, Arizona and Utah, visiting the Rose Bowl, a well-coached team should make it two for a very pathetic two in the terrible South.