From San Francisco -- I have it from a reliable source that Jim Mora did not quit Saturday after watching his first UCLA football game.
But as UCLA starts rebuilding yet again, I sit here at the Hungry Nut Bowl or whatever it’s called wondering if I should lie to you.
I’m guessing you would like to begin the New Year hearing that Dan Guerrero put great care and thought into hiring Mora as football coach.
We know that’s not true, Guerrero hiring the first guy who would agree to take the job.
But just as a test, here goes: “I think Dan Guerrero put great care and thought into hiring Mora.”
Now don’t you feel better?
And you would probably like someone to write Mora has hired great assistant coaches and is already proving to be a terrific recruiter, and any sentence with a hopeful ring to it.
It probably doesn’t even matter if it’s true or not. Everyone forgets in the long run.
But the next thing you’re going to want to hear is that the USC football monopoly is over.
Rather than just blatantly lie, I thought maybe it would be best to never write about UCLA again, which seems to be the Bruins’ preferred choice.
When UCLA administrators brought Mora to town a few weeks ago for his introductory news conference, the school’s sports information department alerted reporters, bloggers, broadcasters — everyone except Page 2.
I thought it a little odd not to be notified, maybe being the only media representative not paid by the school to attend UCLA bowl games in San Jose, Las Vegas, San Francisco earlier, Washington, D.C., and El Paso, for heaven’s sake.
But this was an important hire for Guerrero — maybe his last — and I’m sure UCLA was looking for a pep rally rather than a challenging news conference.
Now having followed UCLA as much as I have, I didn’t think I could pass on the Hungry Nut Bowl, given its historic implications. UCLA is the only team in the nation with a losing record to be playing in a bowl game.
Undoubtedly, years from now folks will be pointing to this abomination as the single biggest reason why there are too many bowl games. And I’ll be able to say I was here and regretting every second.
Mora was also here with his kids since the place felt very much like a UCLA game in the Rose Bowl. Another 30,000 or so in attendance and it might have been sold out.
Mora, dressed in blue sports coat, blue shirt and blue pants, met with the media. Had Illinois hired him to replace its fired coach, I guess he would have dressed in an orange sports coat, orange shirt and orange pants.
I mention USC to Mora and he says, “I’m not worried about Southern Cal; I’m worried about UCLA.”
That doesn’t make him any different from most of us. I don’t think anyone is worried about USC. But how can you not be worried about the Bruins after watching this collapse to a team coming off six straight defeats?
If I were UCLA’s next coach, I’d be really worried.
But at the mention of USC, a UCLA administrator steps in and tries to end the media session.
After the Bruins were beaten 50-0, I’m not surprised UCLA administrators don’t want to just run off and hide every time USC is mentioned.
Mora tells the media he’s been going into the homes of recruits and telling their parents he knows what it takes to get to the NFL, given his 25 years of experience.
I presume he’s telling them, “Send your son to USC.”
Mora is big on football cliches and bluster; it’s not his fault that he doesn’t have much more to offer, as he’s spoken to his football team only once so far.
But as the big picture goes, I ask Mora if he thinks the USC monopoly is over, figuring someone at UCLA has prepared him for the obvious question.
But Mora has no idea. It’s odd that he would be left on his own with the UCLA administrator hovering and so concerned about anything Mora might have to say about the Trojans.
To help, I advise Mora that USC doesn’t like to be called “Southern Cal.”
“Well, that’s what I call them,” Mora says with defiance. As the new marketing campaign at UCLA goes: “More intensity — Mora football.”
A loss to Rice to open next season, and “More of the same” will probably work just as well.
But right now, all that matters is feeling good about the New Year. Mora is already impressing the adults who think a lack of discipline — rather than a series of crummy quarterbacks — has been the Bruins’ problem.
“It’s completely unacceptable and will not be part of the program going forward,” Mora says after the Bruins ditched practice recently as part of some kind of senior tradition. “I can just tell you in no uncertain terms that that tradition will not be part of tradition going forward.”
There’s nothing more stirring than a tough-talking coach who hasn’t lost a game yet.
Now don’t you feel better?
And I didn’t even have to lie that much.