UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who just last year held the same position at Arizona State, won’t be fanning any flames this week.
His current quarterback protégé, Brett Hundley, can help UCLA become bowl eligible in October for the first time since 2005 if the Bruins can win Saturday at Arizona State.
But standing in the way are the Sun Devils, who also have a prolific first-year starter at quarterback. Taylor Kelly, a redshirt sophomore, was groomed by Mazzone the last two seasons.
So who would Mazzone rather have?
“Brett Hundley,” Mazzone said with conviction. Then he laughed, and added, “That’s a lousy question. Come on …"
It’s also an unavoidable topic this week.
“It’s going to be a little weird,” Mazzone said. “I know all those kids. They’re having a good year. We’re having a good year. It’ll be fun.”
Mazzone knows the drill. “This is my ninth coaching change,” he said. “I’m at UCLA. I’m trying to prepare these kids best I can for whatever team is on the schedule.”
This one just happens to be led by a player Mazzone was mentoring a year ago.
Kelly was the backup behind Brock Osweiler last season. Kelly’s path to becoming the starter was accelerated when Osweiler decide to go into the NFL draft after head coach Dennis Erickson was fired and Mazzone was not retained.
Kelly has passed for 1,724 yards and 15 touchdowns in Arizona State’s 5-2 start. His 167.97 passing efficiency rating is eighth best nationally.
“He’s one of those gym-rat guys, a little Jake Plummer-ish,” Mazzone said. “He’s not the tallest guy, not the strongest guy, not the fastest guy. But he’s a guy who moves his football team.”
Running backs Jamal Miles and Cameron Marshall are other Sun Devils Mazzone worked closely with — alongside running backs coach Steve Broussard, who also moved from Arizona State to UCLA.
“I’m happy for Taylor, Jamal, Cameron, all those guys” Mazzone said. “They are doing a good job over there. But I’m a UCLA Bruin.”
Given the nomadic nature of the business, Mazzone and Broussard are not the first coaches to meet up against former players. Usually, though, there is more time and distance between.
For example, Arizona State offensive line coach Bob Connelly is a former UCLA assistant. But he last worked in Westwood in 2007.
Things can be different when the experience is still fresh. A year ago, UCLA faced Utah and offensive coordinator Norm Chow less than a year after the Bruins let Chow go after the 2010 season.
Chow did his best to downplay the matchup in the days leading up to the game — “I am too old for all that,” he said — but he no doubt took special satisfaction in Utah’s 31-6 victory.
“You could tell there was a little more juice at practice,” Utah offensive lineman John Cullen said after the game. " ... So it was good to get it for him.”
Mazzone has given no indication that this week’s game carries extra significance, but his new boss, UCLA Coach Jim Mora, noted, “It’s really tough when you have to go back to the place where you were.”
Both teams are off to solid starts this season, entering Saturday’s game with records of 5-2.
Arizona State was leading the Pac-12 Conference’s South Division with a 6-2 record around this time last year, then collapsed and lost its last four games.
“It’s a goofy profession, isn’t it?” Mazzone said. “If you would have told me 12 months ago that I would be at UCLA right now I would have thought you were crazy.”
Mora was more than happy to pick up some pieces from what the Sun Devils dismantled. “I watched Arizona State film from last year, and watched the offense from a defensive perspective,” Mora said. “I tried to figure out how I would defend them. It was difficult.”
Broussard said heading back to Tempe, Ariz., for Saturday’s game would be “a little emotional. You have friends, you develop relationships. It’s good to see that they are doing well.”