October 9, 2012
It's a difficult admission, one that would trouble my poor mother if she were still alive.
But on occasion, I can be critical here.
I remember my mom once telling me, "If you can't find anything nice to write about someone, then go do a boxing, tennis or horse-racing column so no one will read it.''
Obviously, that brings me to the mother of all challenges: Monday's assignment to write about UCLA after the Bruins were clobbered, 43-17, by a doormat like Cal.
I begin by knowing I've already caught a break. I'm a DirecTV customer, so I don't get the Pac-12 channel and didn't see Saturday night's fiasco.
I really don't know what happened, so I'll be asking Coach Jim Mora to tell me what I missed. That's so much better than explaining to him how he blew it.
First, I stop at the UCLA student center for a cup of coffee, an old habit from my days trying to stay awake during Karl Dorrell's news conferences.
The young girl at the cash register wants to know if I'm a student. Who knew we had the same major?
At the same time, I notice the student newspaper, and are there any bigger optimists in this world than student newspaper reporters?
Sam Strong writes about the UCLA loss in the Daily Bruin, and as I read it I get the feeling he wishes he went to USC. He's obviously never had to deal with Lane Kiffin.
Strong writes: "When Mora is pressed for an answer in an interview, he always falls back on the three pillars he hopes to kick-start this program on — discipline, accountability and toughness.
"None of them showed up on Saturday.''
It's a good thing newspapers will be gone before Sam grows up and goes strong on the Dodgers.
But I was curious to see what Mora thought of the kid's work. So I read it to Mora and ask whether it's true.
Mora begins by saying he's impressed with how hard his team played, and here I'm wishing I had gone venti rather than tall before he catches himself and says, "You should play hard.''
If you start counting the wasted minutes in life listening to a coach not answer a question, it's almost a lifetime.
Strong's column "is inaccurate in terms of toughness; we did play with toughness,'' says Mora. "I would question the discipline because of the penalties; penalties can be an indication of [a lack of] discipline, but I don't think we're an undisciplined team. I think we just made some mistakes.
"And our guys are accountable to each other."
I don't say anything about accountability and Mora's still not apologizing publicly to a fellow UCLA employee after publicly cussing him out, because isn't that Athletic Director Dan Guerrero's job?
I just note Strong has it all wrong according to Mora, and so obviously the kid's going to be a good one.
But I'm also impressed with Mora when he says he went out of his way to find Cal's quarterback after the loss so he could shake his hand.
I'd be just as impressed if he said he went out of his way to do the same thing with the UCLA employee he humiliated, but it is a little out of his way, down the stairs and down the hall.
"He's a tough sucker,'' Mora says of Cal's quarterback.
The same could probably be said of the UCLA employee who has worked 29 years at the school, and who continues to answer to Mora.
But live and learn, as Mora says he is doing during Monday's news gathering.
And right now he really is. He's doing a masterful job of coming across as a lovable and likable loser, blaming himself for not having his defense in the correct alignment.
Ask him anything and the lovable and likable loser could not be any more accommodating or thoughtful, which is so different from the clipped clichés he usually offers after games.
Maybe he really is living and learning, more the personable guy that I remember than the cussing ogre.
We'll see. I notice in the box score that the Bruins went for a 29-yard field goal while down by 15 to start the fourth quarter. I ask whether this decision deflates his team since it doesn't score again.
"We wanted to get within two touchdowns," he says. They already were, but why quibble?
But he cares enough to text later to clarify.
"I just reviewed my game notes I keep during games about certain decisions I make:
"Thoughts on FG; [fourth and six] too long the way their defense is playing, not getting first down could be emotionally deflating to players, 14:31 on clock so we have at least three, maybe four possessions left, want to get within 12 points so two touchdowns win it instead of TD and TD and two points tie it, Ka'imi [Fairbairn] can make the kick and want that for his confidence.
"That's about it.''
And that helps, but because I wasn't there I wonder whether the Bruins quit because Cal ran free for a 68-yard score with the game essentially over.
"No, absolutely not,'' Mora says. "The score got away from us, but nobody quit.''
The question must linger with Mora because he returns to it later. But instead of fighting it, he concedes why it might be asked.
"When you get a long run on you at the end, conventional wisdom is to ask a question like you did: Did they quit? Because that's what it appears to be,'' says Mora. "The reality is we busted the coverage. It looks bad, but we didn't quit.''
It's all good, more ups than downs so far, and Mora is dealing with defeat like a pro.
Mom would be proud I found something nice to write.
Of course, father knows best, and I know what he would say: "Give him hell.''
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