Noel Mazzone, UCLA’s new offensive coordinator, never got around to watching game tapes to see what quarterbacks he inherited.
No reason, he said.
Mazzone had only a few short meet-and-greet conversations with Kevin Prince and Brett Hundley, and even fewer with Richard Brehaut, during his first two months on the job.
This is a new era around Westwood, and at first pass it has a laid-back look, right down to Mazzone’s T-shirt and goatee. All he’s missing is a flannel shirt and Nirvana CD.
Then, with the voice of a general, Mazzone paraphrases George Patton: “A simple plan, finely executed today, is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Clearly, behind that “hey, dude” appearance lurks a get-it-done personality with an all-for-one style.
“A staff is like a family working together,” said Texas Tech Coach Tommy Tuberville, who employed Mazzone as offensive coordinator at Mississippi and Auburn. “Noel is very good at working with people he hasn’t worked with before. He loves golf, he’s going to be great with boosters, those type of things.”
And, Tuberville said, “He knows a lot of football.”
This is the sixth offensive coordinator in eight years for UCLA. Philosophies, some with “War and Peace"-length playbooks, have come and gone. Yet, the offensive doldrums have remained since quarterback Drew Olson and running back Maurice Jones-Drew left after the 2005 season.
Now comes Mazzone, with intensity and simplicity.
Huddles? “They slow the game down,” he said.
Extensive playbook? “We only have about 20 plays,” he said.
Complicated system? “We’re looking for quality, not quantity,” he said.
Said Tuberville: “He’s not an ego guy. He knows to let the players win the game for him.”
Mazzone, 55, has honed his offensive theories since leaving Raton, N.M. — population 7,282 — to play quarterback at the University of New Mexico in 1975. He has been offensive coordinator at Mississippi twice, and also at Auburn, Oregon State and North Carolina State before landing at Arizona State, where he coached the last two seasons.
Although his body of work — which also includes three seasons (2006-2008) as the New York Jets’ wide receivers coach — doesn’t rate a mention in Raton’s Wikipedia entry alongside town native Tom Blackburn, who wrote the “Ballad of Davy Crockett,” Mazzone is well-respected around football.
For example, in the last few months he has been called on to work with NFL quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Philip Rivers and Christian Ponder.
“It’s not, ‘My way or the highway,’” Tuberville said of Mazzone’s style. “He’s going to take the personnel at UCLA and conform his offense to it.”
Arizona State lost its last five games and finished with a 6-7 record in 2011, but the offense wasn’t culpable. Quarterback Brock Osweiler passed for 4,036 yards. Cameron Marshall gained 1,050 yards rushing. Gerell Robinson had 1,397 yards receiving.
“I try to create space for playmakers,” Mazzone said. “I’m going to get you the ball where all you’ve got to do is beat one guy man-to-man. I do that, then it’s up to you.”
He also said his was “a quarterback-driven offense.”
UCLA has not had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since Cade McNown in 1999.
Mazzone’s quarterback checklist is specific: “Is he accurate? Is he a decision maker? Is he mobile? Can he create? Does he have good arm strength?”
What he wants is someone who can take charge. “I call a lot of bad plays in a game,” Mazzone joked. “He has to make my bad play calling into good play calling.”
At UCLA, he inherits Prince, Hundley, Brehaut and Jerry Neuheisel, all of whom have “a clean slate,” Mazzone said. Toss into the mix T.J. Millweard, a freshman from Texas who is enrolling early to try to win the job.
“We’re going to learn about each other this spring,” Mazzone said.
Prince, who will be a senior, won the job the last three seasons but has battled injuries trying to keep it. “I’ve done it before, I can do it again,” Prince said. “It’s a challenge that keeps you on your toes.”
Hundley, who redshirted as a freshman last season, was an Internet obsession of some UCLA fans, who have now moved on to Millweard and Devin Fuller, another freshman quarterback who is due to enroll this summer.
“Every year a coach is going to bring in someone to beat out the guy already there,” Hundley said.
Millweard, from Fort Worth All Saints High, is that guy this spring. He planned to attend Arizona State but followed Mazzone to UCLA.
“He makes me laugh, which is something I love,” Millweard said. “When I’m doing my best, when I’m calm and cool and collected, I’m laughing a little bit.”
Yet, Millweard can already look over his shoulder. UCLA has a commitment from Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter quarterback Eddie Printz, a high school junior.
“Life is performance-based,” Mazzone said. “I told the guys who signed this year: ‘Guess what I’m going to do next year? Try to sign another guy to come beat you out.’”
Patton couldn’t have said it better.