SAN DIEGO — There have been rumors down here that the Chargers might be interested in UCLA’s Jim Mora as a replacement for Coach Norv Turner.
If the Holiday Bowl was an audition, Mora could not have done more to prove himself the ideal choice to be the next Chargers’ head coach.
Like the Chargers do so often, the Bruins played flat and let their fans down, losing 49-26.
And in doing so, Mora also found a way to further irritate the faithful with the kind of play-calling that often leaves Turner looking so befuddled on the sideline.
Mora called for a field goal, his team down 35-7 and parked at the Baylor 13-yard line shortly before the half. It’s the sort of thing an NFL coach would do, and to heck with disgruntled fans.
But it’s nothing, as a tough-talking Mora has preached since arriving at UCLA, the Bruins supposedly not about to be held back by anyone.
So why wimp out now?
How do you not let it all ride in a bowl game, against an opponent that has been treated like a welcome mat while standing before its own end zone?
This was a Baylor team ranked 119th on defense, and they only rank 120 teams. It’s a Baylor team so dreadful on defense it’s worse than USC. That’s how bad it is.
And yet Baylor manhandled the Bruins as if that was Philip Rivers playing quarterback and Ryan Mathews running at Qualcomm Stadium.
This was the UCLA of old, and yet just a few days ago a Los Angeles Daily News columnist was writing under the headline: “Reward Jim Mora Immediately for UCLA’s Special Season.”
The Daily News columnist was worried the Goofs in San Diego were going to steal Mora, but how special can a season be if it ends with three-straight whiffs?
After three straight defeats is UCLA on the rise, as some suggest, or have they been exposed as frauds?
Here we have Mora being canonized after 13 games, but anyone dealing in reality, which leaves out Bruins’ fans, knows their schedule was good for at least nine wins.
OK, maybe eight if Rick Neuheisel was coaching.
UCLA played six outright crummy teams: Rice, Houston, Utah, California, Colorado and Washington State.
Mora’s troops went 5-1 against teams with a combined record of 23-49.
They went 4-4 against everyone else.
UCLA did not play the best team in the Pac-12 — Oregon.
They gave it their all, says Mora, in two games against the No. 2 team in the Pac-12 in Stanford and lost both.
They lost to the No. 3 team in the Pac-12 — Oregon State.
They defeated USC, and it seems everyone else did as well.
They beat Nebraska from the weak Big Ten Conference, and Nebraska could not beat Wisconsin, a team with five losses.
Was this season really that special?
It was a good season, Neuheisel and Karl Dorrell’s recruits finally living up to expectations.
Mora got terrific play from Brett Hundley and made a brilliant move in switching Anthony Barr from offense to defense.
But good is not special, and the true test of a great college coach in the making is how he fares over time.
Just ask Ben Howland, who took the Bruins to three-straight Final Fours but is now asked regularly to address his future with the school.
Dorrell went 10-2 and the next year knocked USC out of the BCS championship game with a 13-9 win. One year later he was fired.
On the heels of a good start, how does Mora’s team do next season at Oregon, at Nebraska and at USC?
How do the Bruins fare as Mora’s recruits become starters after this season only one, right tackle Simon Goines, did so?
How do the Bruins react to a cliche, the hard-nosed coach who thinks winning is everything and a defeat merits a time of “mourning?”
This was sad, all right, the Bruins three-point favorites with the betting public buying into the UCLA hype.
But it’s now 42-13 with a quarter to play and the Celtics think they are in trouble against the Clippers.
I wonder who loses by more, Boston or UCLA?
Right now UCLA is big on field goals with two in a row while Baylor goes for it on fourth down and scores a touchdown.
Most Bruins fans have left by the time Baylor starts fumbling and UCLA finds a way to score a touchdown. It really does have the feel of a Chargers game.
More than anything, though, this doesn’t have the feel of what Mora has been talking about year when it comes to what he plans to accomplish at UCLA.
Baylor isn’t this good, but matched against a team playing as if it didn’t want to be here, the Bears found reason to be pumped about next season.
When it came time for UCLA to close out Mora’s first term and live up to his rip-snorting talk, the Bruins did a belly flop.
I now leave UCLA with one suggestion:
Do not go into next season using the slogan “Unfinished Business.”