Not unlike his pop -- "Playoffs? Playoffs?!" -- Jim Mora can be kind of a grump. Not in a "I hate the world" sort of way. More in a football coach-y way.
Which is why I got a kick out of Jon Gold's description of Mora from spring practice No. 1 for UCLA -- Mora's first practice since his ugly departure from the Seattle Seahawks.
The huge smile on Jim Mora's face after the first practice of UCLA's spring football campaign really told the whole story. Perhaps no one was more excited to be back out on the field than he was.
It's been more than two years since he's been on the practice field -- two years, three months, as Mora pointed out, and yes, it appears he's been counting -- and he took out all his frustration on his throat. He was more hoarse than an auctioneer by the time he addressed the media, after spending 2+ hours sprinting everywhere on the field.
Every coach is motivated to win. For one, it's the only way to avoid getting fired. But the very circumstances surrounding Mora's hiring -- his being a lifelong NFL coach who's been out of the game for an extended period of time -- could actually become a positive here. For one, he's hungry to re-enter a competitive environment. Instead of feeling entitled, he's grateful for an opportunity. He's eager to teach, which is more a part of the college game than in the NFL. And, though he likely would never use the term, he also wants to take control of his coaching legacy. Yes, Mora is well aware that some doubt him.
Of course, we typed just about the exact same thing when Rick Neuheisel returned to his alma mater to redeem himself in 2008. At the time, I must confess I -- wrongly -- felt a high degree of certainty he would succeed. (Though, as I've told Neuheisel, I was skeptical about the initial mix of coaching personalities around him, notably the so-called dream team of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker.)
It seems like we've been talking about a "culture change" with UCLA football since the declining years of the Bob Toledo administration, which ended nearly a decade ago. But that's Mora's chief task. It's the Point A even before Mora and the Bruins can turn their attention to that school across town, whose (again) rising fortunes don't make anything easier in Westwood.
Gold provides a nice preview of specific -- and less philosophical -- issues the Bruins face this spring. More than a few fans would say the chief task is developing competency at quarterback, which is the primary challenge for new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Mazzone is best known for transforming Arizona State's Brock Osweiler from a basketball player who dabbled at quarterback into a potential first-day NFL draft pick this spring.
Gold's take on the quarterback competition is interesting. While many Bruins fans -- and not a few reporters -- are eager for the newness of touted redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to overtake the more experienced but inconsistent Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, Gold sees Prince and Brehaut as the front-runners.
Brett Hundley and T.J. Millweard will vie for the position in spring ball as well, but it will likely come down to the two seniors, Prince and Brehaut. Prince gets the first snaps, but Brehaut should follow close behind. If one of them shows tremendous consistency with the short pass and develops a good rhythm early, it will go a long way in the coaches' eyes. They're certainly going to be looking out for it.
A single practice, particularly one not in full pads, doesn't reveal much. But here are three positives culled from reports from those on hand: 1. A demanding practice tempo -- a recurring theme among just about every observer -- should make it hard for the malaise of past years to endure; 2. Left offensive tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, fresh off an LDS mission, looked fit and motivated. That could be transformative for the O-line; 3. Mazzone wants to spread the field. He needs guys to catch the ball. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria are fully capable of helping him do that. Now he only needs four more guys.