Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is Jim T. Mora the Next Pete Carroll?

I, like most Bruin football fans was disappointed when Jim T. Mora was hired as UCLA's new head football coach. We were all upset that the school didn't hire a name coach like Chris Petersen or at least an up and coming college coach, like Mississippi State's Dan Mullen or Baylor's Art Briles. The knock on Mora was dual--an undistinguished pro coàching career and no college experience, particulàrly in recruiting. One Bruin website was so mad they told their readers to call the chancellors office in mass to complain. This reaction is the initial parallel to Pete Carroll, as USC fans were up in arms a decade ago when they hired Pete Carroll, a washout NFL coach without recent college coaching experience, as USC's head coach. Everybody wanted a name college coach, and when Carroll was hired, the alumni protested en masse to athletic director Mike Garrett. As it turns out Carroll was a great hire and probably explains why Mike Garrett was able to retain his job as athletic director at USC despite a personality which could most generously be described as prickly, if not abrasive.

Actually, the parallel between Mora and Carroll was first raised prior to his hiring, by sports commentator Petros Papadakis, at the time when Mora was one of many potential candidates being discussed in the media. Papadakis thought that despite Mora's lack of college coaching experience, that Mora would actually be better suited for the college game than the pros, due to what Papadakis described as Mora's rah rah approach. It is this rah rah approach that was the hallmark of Carroll's success at USC, and which deriding UCLA fans used to refer to Carroll as Pom Pom Pete.

Now, with the passing of high school letter of intent day this past Wednesday, the Mora/Carroll comparison took another step forward. Despite his lack of college coaching, and particularly recruiting experience, Mora brought in a remarkably good first recruiting class for UCLA, perhaps as good as any in the Pac12. He did this by hiring ace recruiting assistant coaches as soon as he got the UCLA job, recruiters who were particularly familiar with the Los Angeles area. In so doing he was able to sign players that UCLA would never otherwise have been able to entice to attend to UCLA. Particularly impressive were players who flipped from commitments to other schools, such as Ellis McCarthy (Cal), Jordan Payton (Washington), Simon Goines (Missouri) and Kenny Walker (Cal). And he recruited blue chip out of state players such as Devin Fuller from New Jersey, T. J. Millweard from Texas, and Javon Williams from Arizona.

Now while the Mora/Carroll comparison continues to grow, UCLA fans are careful to not get carried away just yet. Shortly before letter of intent day, a national college football writer for Sports Illustrated graded all of the new college coaching hires for this past offseason, and rated Mora's hiring the lowest at "D." The commentary was that pro coaches are notoriously unsuccessful when taking over college programs, and Mora was an unemployed pro coach to boot. UCLA fans also know that successful recruiting does not necessarily make a good coach, since as good as Mora's first class was, on paper it's not any better than former coach Rick Neuheisel's first three recruiting classes. However, there clearly has been a major change in attitude over Mora among the UCLA naysayers, who at best are now enthusiastic about Mora, and at worst in a wait and see attitude.

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