If you can’t win with a five-star QB and a Los Angeles recruiting base, when can you win?
UCLA fired football coach Jim Mora, the program announced Sunday. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will finish the season as the interim boss.
Mora went 46-30 in six seasons helming the Bruins. His firing comes on his 56th birthday, a day after UCLA fell to 5-6 on the season with a loss to rival USC.
Why’s he out?
Mora’s UCLA teams stopped making progress a few years ago. Mora spent six seasons leading the Bruins, and the first three were good ones. The Bruins went 10-16 under Rick Neuheisel in the two seasons before Mora’s arrival, then 29-11 in his first three. They finished No. 16 in the AP Poll in 2013 and No. 10 in 2014, when they won the Alamo Bowl. UCLA hadn’t broken through but looked to be on the right track.
Then the Bruins stalled out. They went 8-5 in 2015, which wasn’t good but at least carried promise in the form of five-star freshman quarter back Josh Rosen. The Bruins did have their quarterback, but they never surrounded him with enough to win. Rosen was injured and had an awful running game during a 4-8 nosedive in 2016, and the Bruins failed to gain real traction in 2017.
In college football, you don’t get to run in place for long. Mora’s teams arguably weren’t even doing that; they just got worse and didn’t get better.
"Jim helped reestablish our football program, and was instrumental in so many ways in moving the program forward,” UCLA AD Dan Guerrero said in the statement annoucing Mora’s firing. “While his first four seasons at UCLA were very successful, the past two seasons have not met expectations. We thank Jim and his family for his service to our school and his unquestionable commitment to our student-athletes."
Was this the right move?
Yes. Mora has been coaching high-level football for a long time now. He hasn’t sustained success over time, and UCLA offers a good enough job that the Bruins shouldn’t need to see what Mora might’ve offered in a hypothetical Year 7. Mora’s best years where when USC was down, and he didn’t win despite having Rosen later.
That raises another issue, obviously: UCLA has missed on a bunch of coaching hires. Mora won’t go down as an all-time mistake — he did have some good moments — but he’s the fourth consecutive hire since Terry Donahue who hasn’t really worked out.
That’s curious, because it shouldn’t be hard to win in this job. It requires a coach to play and compete against USC, and that’s hard, but there’s enough talent in Los Angeles and its surrounding areas for both teams to be good and share the top of that division for years at a time. Maybe it’s harder than it looks.
Who are some candidates to replace him?
Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly gets connected to lots of jobs, and given his Western ties from his time at UO and later the San Francisco 49ers, he’ll come up for this one, too. (His name’s also come up a lot for the still-vacant Florida job.)
SB Nation’s Richard Johnson and Dan Rubenstein tossed around a few UCLA ideas in the days before Mora’s firing: Syracuse coach Dino Babers and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin.
All of UCLA’s advantages — most importantly, being in Los Angeles — should give the Bruins great options. We’ll see if this is the hire they finally nail.
Where was Mora before UCLA?
All over the place. The son of longtime NFL coach Jim Mora, the younger Mora also spent a lot of years in the pros. He was the Falcons’ head coach from 2004-06 and later the Seahawks’ head coach in 2009. That was his last job before joining UCLA in 2012.
It wasn’t all bad, right?
Nope. The first three years brought all those wins, and even 2017 featured one of the coolest games of the year: UCLA’s 34-point comeback for a season-opening win against Texas A&M, with the dagger touchdown coming on a fake spike with the clock stopped.