Bruins may have switched places with Trojans, but they’re not gloating

UCLA Coach Jim Mora says he isn't taking anything for granted with the Bruins' resurgence.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

“Los Angeles is UCLA’s town now” are words that can make Bruins Coach Jim Mora cringe a bit.

It was less than two years ago that Los Angeles seemed to be USC’s town.

In November 2011, then-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said the Bruins had closed the gap with USC. The Trojans’ 50-0 victory later that month proved otherwise. Neuheisel was fired and a long stretch of UCLA mediocrity was extended.

Things can change that fast.

USC fired Coach Lane Kiffin on Sunday. It can be perceived as another road marker in the Bruins’ ascent to top dog in Los Angeles. You just won’t catch Mora woofing about it.


“The minute you start to think, ‘We got it,’ you’re done,” Mora said. “That’s the start of your downfall. I already got questions about recruiting. There will be stuff coming up about our coaches. What we have to do is focus on what we’re doing here and not let it be a distraction.”

Still, the No. 12 Bruins seem to have tilted that windmill. In November, UCLA beat USC, 38-28, for only the second time since 1998. The Bruins’ 2013 recruiting class ranked higher than the one at USC, which is hamstrung by the NCAA’s scholarship limitations.

Even the look around town is different, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley said.

“When I first got here, I didn’t see anybody wearing UCLA stuff,” Hundley said. “Now you walk around town and everyone is talking UCLA this and UCLA that. I like going into stores and seeing UCLA shirts over USC shirts.”

Hundley said the Bruins are careful to avoid the pratfalls that can come with a UCLA-is-better perception.

“Last year, when we got ranked, everyone was like, ‘Hip-hip hooray,’” Hundley said. “Now we’re pretty chill. It’s like nothing is too big for us.”

Even overtaking USC?

“Whatever they’re doing over there, they are doing what they have to do,” Hundley said. “When I first got here, everyone thought UCLA was the bad team. Things switched up when there is a coaching change.”

The change at UCLA in 2012 dropped Mora into a rivalry that in hindsight was like nothing he had seen.

“It is unique because we are so close together and it seems like everyone in the city is from ‘SC or UCLA,” Mora said. “I was an outsider. I didn’t understand how passionate people were about their school.”

But, he said, “I think it’s a healthy rivalry, compared to some of the ones I have seen. I’m in the South Bay, and that’s kind of a USC area. People there joke around with me about it.”

As for Kiffin’s departure, Mora was empathetic.

“We have all been in his shoes, and it’s terrible,” Mora said. But, he said, “the one thing I noticed about this city, it’s a pretty compassionate place. You drive on the freeway here and it’s different than other places. Here, when you put a blinker on, they let you in. Other places I lived, you put your blinker on and they speed up.

“I think you see these people who were saying, ‘Fire Kiffin, fire Kiffin, fire Kiffin,’ and it’s just kind of bluster. When the guy gets fired, they’re like, ‘Dang.’ They actually feel for him.”

Big brothers

UCLA first-year freshman Myles Jack, who moved into the starting lineup at outside linebacker two weeks ago, has no lack of tutors.

The Bruins have two seniors, Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, and one junior, Eric Kendricks, at the other starting linebacker spots.

“Their experiences, what they have been through, really help me,” Jack said. “AB leads by example. I try to emulate him the best I can. Eric gives me a lot of advice, like where to line up in pass packages. Jordan tells me what not to do.”

Sounds as if they have it covered.

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes