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Jim Mora won't hold back on his team or himself and UCLA is better for it

Jim Mora won't hold back on his team or himself and UCLA is better for it
Coach Jim Mora's Bruins football team returns plenty of talent for a run at thePac-12 Conference championship. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The tirades on a San Bernardino football field have been loud enough to be heard 75 miles away in Westwood, creating vibrations across the college football landscape.

The UCLA practices this month have been marked by an eight-clap of profanity, a Bruin Walk of sarcasm, a series of gutty-checking little outbursts.

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In separate very public and pointed scoldings, Jim Mora has ripped his entire team, his celebrated freshman tight end Chris Clark, and especially his highly touted freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.

On Thursday, bless him, the UCLA coach finally ripped himself.

"Like I told [the team] after practice, ... Yeah, I'm an ass—," he told reporters at the team's training camp.

He then described himself as the expletive twice more, in adding: "Sorry for my language, but ... that's my job to make sure that they get the most out of what God gave them and protect all that they've worked for and all they're working toward, and so, I'm not going to let anyone go through the motions at any time, and it starts with me."

The entire interview (warning, video contains graphic language) is on YouTube.

Whoa. When is the last time you've heard a college football coach call himself a nasty name? Never, right? Even though Mora gives compelling reasons for his behavior, it doesn't change the chomp of the sound bite, and with those words Mora is risking the alienation of recruits, alumni, and any fans who don't like affixing their children with ear muffs.

But here's the deal: Mora is telling the truth, the one truth that has turned the Bruins into a national championship contender, the only truth that can help them take the final step.

Yes, when coaching his team, Jim Mora can be what he proclaims to be. But it is exactly why he was hired and exactly what the Bruins culture needed, a leader who is tough and abrasive and completely honest about it.

The fire from Mora has drastically changed the program since he arrived three seasons ago, leading to a 29-11 record and three straight wins over USC. But his job is far from complete. Somewhere deep in their locker room psyche is the fear that they are the same old Bruins. That attitude surfaced last season in the embarrassing 31-10 loss to Stanford that cost them a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. That attitude lingers in Mora's 0-6 record against Stanford and Oregon.

There is more toughening to be done, and as long as he doesn't personally degrade or insult the players in a verbal or physical manner — which he doesn't — then Mora should be allowed to be what he needs to be as long as his message keeps being heard. If there's one legitimate complaint about his outbursts, it's about his plentiful use of profanity in public, which makes this pretty smart guy sound pretty dumb. But apparently, Mora is willing to take that hit.

"This is football, I'm not going to change the way I coach just because there are fans and media out here," Mora said Thursday. "You're trying to put these guys in stressful situations, you're trying to test them, you're sometimes setting things up to see how they handle it. To me, this is where you do all of that."

The way he did it with Rosen earlier this week made national news when his words were chronicled by bystanders within a, oh, 25-mile radius. After Rosen appeared casual in tossing up Hail Mary passes, Mora went to work.

"You're not at Bellflower St. John Bosco … that's why you have not been named the starter,'' he shouted to the kid. "You can't hit an open receiver downfield with no defense … go back to Bosco and beat some more ... teams!"

Mora sarcastically added, "The Anointed One!"

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It sounded brutal to some bystanders, but most thought it was just football, and everyone agreed it was no worse than what Rosen will be hearing from opposing defenders and fans throughout the Pac-12 this season. While Mora was criticized by some national observers, most who had been around him for three years agreed that he was just doing his job.

"On game day, what you see me do is support those guys and be there for them," Mora said. "Out here it's about toughening them physically, mentally and emotionally to be able to go in that Rose Bowl in front of 85,000 fans against a great opponent and perform in a stressful situation."

He does support his guys on game days. It is like he becomes a completely different kind of coach. He never rips his players even after bad losses, and is so emotional about his support, sometimes during postgame news conferences it appears his eyes fill with tears.

Mora is also renowned for his kindness off the field, most notably with the Count On Me Family Foundation he created with wife Shannon.

He is also known for never forgetting a player, like Nick Pasquale, a walk-on wide receiver who died two seasons ago when struck by a car on the night after he played his first game. Mora has ensured that the Bruins have honored Pasquale in many ways since. The Pasquale family is still so close to the program that brother A.J. worked for Mora last season and father Mel attended practice Thursday. Players who were Pasquale's teammates are still allowed to wear the "NP" patch on their helmets.

Jim Mora might seem like an odd combination of human being, a good guy even an admitted ass—. But the Bruins have benefited from both.

Twitter: @billplaschke

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