Sports

Mora changes culture at UCLA

Former Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora has the UCLA Bruins all fired up. (Associated Press)
Former Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora has the UCLA Bruins all fired up. (Associated Press)

PULLMAN – Everything has changed for the once-struggling program since firing its coach and hiring a new one.

Players run harder and play faster. They’re tougher. There’s a different atmosphere thanks to a stern, fiery head coach and a staff of quality assistants.

“He came in with a plan in place,” WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro said. “They’re executing that plan, and you’re seeing the results.”

Yes, Jim Mora’s first year at UCLA has gone just swimmingly.

As for the Cougars? They’re still winless in Pac-12 play in Year 1 of the Mike Leach era, trying to snap a six-game losing streak when the Bruins (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) visit Pullman at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

But WSU at least got a proven, veteran running backs coach out of the deal. Leach hired Mastro to join him at WSU after Mastro, a tight ends/f-backs coach at UCLA, was let go as a result of coach Rick Neuheisel’s firing.

It was a necessary change, Mastro said.

“It was deserved,” Mastro said. “They needed to make a change there. Jim came in and did a nice job of changing the culture there. … I still visit with some of those guys, and he did a hell of a job putting a staff together, and that to me is huge in this business.”

Mora, who last coached the Seahawks in 2009, has seen the most immediate success of the Pac-12’s four new coaches this season. Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Todd Graham (Arizona State) have each coached their teams to 5-4 records and could both qualify for the postseason.

But Mora has the Bruins leading the Pac-12 South and, perhaps even more important to UCLA fans, ahead of the USC Trojans in both major polls. Mastro especially praised Mora’s hiring of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, receivers coach Eric Yarber and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm to his offensive staff.

The cupboard wasn’t bare from a personnel standpoint, either.

“We’ve got a bunch of really good kids here,” Mora said. “They’re very smart kids. They want to win. That was evident right from the start. They appear to be willing to do whatever we ask them to do.”

By “really good kids,” he might also mean that he inherited a roster full of, well, really good players. That’s especially true at running back, with the school’s all-time leading rusher, Johnathan Franklin, already eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark and ranked No. 4 in the nation.

And, as Mastro is quick to point out, their quarterback ain’t bad, either. Mora chose redshirt freshman Brett Hundley as his starter in early August, and Hundley has accomplished something no other Bruins signal-caller in recent memory has – he’s stayed healthy.

Heck, even Hundley couldn’t stay healthy last year, tearing his MCL in the summer and eliminating the chance of playing. It also forced UCLA to play Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut last season, part of the reason the Bruins’ inconsistent offense sputtered and Neuheisel was fired after a 6-8 season, his third losing record in four years.

Hundley’s completion percentage (67.8) and touchdown to interception ratio (21 to 8) are especially impressive for a freshman. And his ability to run gives the Bruins’ offense even more balance.

“He’s got another gear,” WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “When he wants to run, he hits that gear and he’s third-and-15, third-and-20, first down. … We’ve got to be aware of where he’s at. He extends drives.”

“If we could have not torn his MCL in the summertime, he probably would have been our starting quarterback last year, and Rick would probably still be there,” Mastro said. “But everything works out for the best.”

At UCLA so far, it has.



Click here to comment on this story »





Blogs


Complete interview with Gabe Marks

Our most recent story about prolific Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks tells the story of a particularly insightful interview we had last spring. That story, "Gabe Marks is a ...


Weekend Wild Card — 7.23-24. 16

I'm facing another weekend of fence-building with my neighbor. Once we get the back fence built, I have one last honey-do item on the agenda and then it's kick back ...


You have 50 choices

S-R intern Tyson Bird brought cookies to work on his last day with us. It has been a pleasure to have him here. I first printed a column submission from ...



Saving for the future

sponsored According to two 2015 surveys, 62 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to handle an unexpected emergency, much less any long-term plans.



Sections


Profile

Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
Customer service:
(800) 338-8801
Newsroom:
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Back to Spokesman Mobile