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Jim Mora hopes to build national recognition for UCLA

The heart palpitations have stopped.

The hand-wringing is over.

The sleepless nights were put to rest.

That wraps up Dan Guerrero's week.

The UCLA athletic director's worst fear was unfolding. Washington needed a football coach and Jim Mora, the Bruins' coach and ex-Washington player, seemed a natural fit.

Washington officials reached out to Mora, but UCLA held on tight. Mora agreed to a two-year contract extension worth about $3 million per season in 2018 and 2019. Mora made $2.2 million this season.

More important, Mora said in his first media interview since the decision, was the significant bump in pay for his assistant coaches and an accelerated pace in building an on-campus football practice facility.

"This gives us a chance to do what we set out to do, compete for a national championship," Mora said. "It was a resounding commitment by Dan Guerrero, Chancellor [Gene] Block and UCLA."

The next step is Mora's.

UCLA has an 18-8 record in his two seasons, including back-to-back victories over USC. But a Rose Bowl game still eludes the Bruins, who haven't been to Pasadena on New Year's Day since the 1999 game. The Bruins have hit the Pac-12 Conference's glass ceiling the last two seasons, losing to Stanford three times, Oregon once and Arizona State once.

"You can't imagine the number of calls I got from friends this week, asking me what I was doing," Mora said. "I told them what I was doing was working for UCLA and trying to make the team better."

Myles Jack, UCLA's star two-way freshman, said the week had been "a nice introduction about how college football is a business."

Jack, who is from Bellevue, Wash., said he received text messages from friends saying Mora was leaving. "The buzz was crazy," Jack said. "I knew Washington was going to fight tooth and nail to get him."

Mora also received numerous calls and text messages, his from former Washington teammates urging him to take the job. Washington officials spoke to Mora once during the week. The discussion did not get into details for a contract.

Jack said he was sure Mora would return, but had a sense of relief when the deal was announced Wednesday.

"When he was recruiting me, the one thing I brought was if he was going to leave the program then I was not going to commit," Jack said. "He promised me he would stay forever, or as long as they let him."

Guerrero knew that he had to retain Mora, who had reinvigorated a downtrodden program. Guerrero said he wanted to put the program on "stable footing, both in the short term and the long term."

"We want to be a national player," Guerrero added. "He is the right guy for that task."

UCLA gave Mora $2.442 million to spread among nine assistant coaches this season. That will be increased to more than $3 million.

USC made offers to UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm this week, according to two people close to the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Klemm is expected to remain at UCLA.

"It allows us to have a better chance to compete when people come to hire our coaches," Mora said. "We can reward our people. It also makes us a player if coaches should ever change."

Mora is hopeful his decision to pass on the job at Washington, his "alma mater, where my family lived," puts to rest any thoughts of his moving. Texas officials may test his loyalty again if Longhorns Coach Mack Brown is fired next week, but Mora seems adamant.

"I hope this squelches thoughts that I am trying to get somewhere else," Mora said. "I'm not out chasing the dollar."

UCLA is.

Guerrero said fundraising efforts for the new football practice facility, which carries an estimated $50-million price tag, spiked this week. Guerrero said the athletic department has $28 million in donations and pledges.

"We heard from people all over Bruin land," Guerrero said.

On Thursday, Mora met with the architects hired to build the facility. He then returned to the recruiting trail, where he spent the week while the Washington whirlwind swirled. He will be back at UCLA on Saturday, when the Bruins begin preparation for a bowl game.

"I made a commitment to the players I recruited and their families," Mora said. "This shows that I am true to my word."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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