When Jim Mora was introduced as the new UCLA football coach in December of 2011, he vowed to take the Bruins to the big time.
“I’d say that it’s a sleeping giant in college football,” he said.
Well, yeah, the UCLA program has since awakened, but with such an unholy ruckus that old-timers could be forgiven for wishing it would just go back to bed. In the last six months, the Bruins have emerged from a longtime slumber, loudly slammed both feet onto the floor, and stomped up to that exclusive corner of the college football landscape filled with titillating controversies and tabloid headlines.
You wanted the big time, UCLA fans? Welcome to the big time.
An assistant coach is publicly accused of lying by a top recruit who eventually goes elsewhere. An assistant coach is suspended for allegedly violating NCAA rules. The top incoming freshman running back spends prom night in jail. And now, this week, the famous father of a marginal player is arrested on suspicion of assaulting a member of the coaching staff.
Remember those quaint days when you thought a sideline tussle between the UCLA head coach and one of his assistants was as awkward as it was going to get? Little did anyone know that last October’s heated encounter between Mora and Jeff Ulbrich was just going to be round one.
True to Mora’s word, the UCLA program has become an elite college football machine, but with all the dangers that entails, its allegiance to the late BCS replaced by a TMZ addiction, its controversies loud enough to drown out an “Eight Clap.”
The kettlebell-swinging incident this week involving Sean “Diddy” Combs and UCLA strength coach Sal Alosi that resulted in Combs’ arrest is the latest in a string of publicized Bruins embarrassments since the end of Mora’s third season. While a rapper storming a weight room is scandalous in any setting, these problems can generally be categorized as the price of running a big-time college football program.
But as USC fans know, if you push hard enough and long enough, eventually the NCAA is going to start paying attention. It is not in the best interest of a Bruins program that has always prided itself on “gutty” to suddenly be viewed as “grimy.”
While Bruins officials declined comment on this story because of the ongoing Combs investigation, they are surely concerned.
How can a parent, even one as rich and influential as Sean “Diddy” Combs, feel so empowered he would bypass the head coach’s office and enter one of the team’s sanctums and demand to talk to an assistant coach? Are the monetary and recruiting benefits of a parent such as Combs really worth the roster spot that his undersized son Justin requires and the access that Combs demands? If Mora truly wants to build a championship program with hard work, commitment and discipline, are these really the kind of glamour deals he wants to be making?
This season, the Bruins will welcome another rap star’s child, Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but he was an elite high school receiver, so the arrangement is not questionable. But one can imagine folks in the UCLA administration now questioning it, which is the shame in all this, that suddenly a football coach with 29 wins in 40 games and three consecutive wins over USC is being possibly viewed with as many raised eyebrows as expectations.
Mora has done a brilliant job of reshaping the Bruins on the field. For this growth to continue, that’s where the excitement needs to remain, not in some weight room.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.