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Harrumph! UCLA coach Jim Mora is not grumpy

UCLA's Jim Mora is "a players' coach" and a "father figure," linebacker Jayon Brown said. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- The question put to UCLA coach Jim Mora is worrisome to the questioner because it seems to include a potentially self-fulfilling prophecy: Jim, are you grumpy?

Mora could laugh at the unusual inquiry. He could get mad at how stupid it is, though by doing that he'd probably be forced to recognize the irony at some point. Instead, he takes it seriously and starts by saying that he is surprised some might think him so.

"I don't think I'm grumpy," Mora said. "I think I'm competitive. I'm not wishy-washy. I'll say what I think, and if I think someone is pushing a question or a conversation in a direction I don't think is accurate, I'll certainly stand up and fight for my position and the position of my team. But grumpy, no. Having spent two years in the media that I did gave me a different perspective of the job, an appreciation for it."

Mora, like many coaches, isn't good at tolerating stupid questions. Also like many coaches, he has his interview quirks. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh refuses to compare players. San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly will belt out "I don't do hypotheticals" before a reporter realizes he's setting one up.

Mora doesn't like "labels," such as when most reporters wrote this past spring that UCLA was switching from an up-tempo spread offense to a pro-style attack to take advantage of the NFL skill set of his talented true sophomore quarterback, Josh Rosen.

"I don't know what a pro-style offense is," he said. "If someone could draw up a pro-style offense, it would be great. It's a label that someone put on ... I don't know."

Mora is the son of a coach, and the elder Jim Mora is perhaps unfairly remembered more for his epic tirade -- "Playoffs? Playoffs!" -- in 2001 than his 125 career NFL wins and outstanding USFL run, which included three title games and two championships. Mora, the son, played for Don James at Washington, and when he ticks off a list of coaching influences after his dad -- Dick Vermeil, Terry Donahue, Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren, Don Coryell -- it's an impressive "who's who" in the business.

One piece of advice all experienced coaches give is "be yourself," and Mora is clearly his own man, one who is not afraid to occasionally provide a harrumph or two.

Although most of Mora's moments of pique are directed at reporters, that's not always the case. Most notorious was his abbreviated handshake with revered Kansas State coach Bill Snyder after the Bruins held on for a 40-35 victory in the Valero Alamo Bowl after the 2014 season, despite a furious rally from the Wildcats. Mora wouldn't address the issue after the game, but he did opaquely Tweet an explanation: "I will defend the safety of my players ... forever."

It turned out that Mora was unhappy -- justifiably so -- because Kansas State players aggressively attacked the Bruins' victory formation at the end of the game, with one Wildcats player leaping over the pile and leading with his helmet. In an age of player safety, particularly for unpaid college players, this was a massive breach of protocol against which the "We never quit!" defense fell short.

Mora's temper can be amusingly calculated, such as during 2015 spring practices, when he upbraided Rosen in front of reporters. Mora, perhaps fretting that lunkheaded scribes weren't following his narrative of the day, offered up, "Tell your readers that is why he has not been named the starter!"

Mora can often be unpredictable, and his mood can vary moment to moment. After the Bruins won 56-30 at Arizona last year, he loudly and colorfully berated a UCLA staffer outside the interview room, only to immediately turn on the charm -- or at least his fantastic quotability -- when he met with reporters.

"For a team to be able to run the ball like that, it's ... inconceivable to me," Mora said. "I've never seen anything like it. It makes me sick to my stomach."

He wasn't being irrational. Although winning by 26 points is nice, his defense yielded 353 yards rushing. Run defense became a season-long upsetter for Mora's stomach.

On the Pac-12's weekly teleconference with reporters, Mora can be energetic and insightful or extremely brief. Sometimes, he's both.

Energetic and insightful? Consider this response last week at Pac-12 media days, after he was asked about minor social media controversies with Rosen, including a picture of him in a hot tub in his dorm room and a picture of him playing golf with a hat emblazoned with a profane political message.

"I'll tell you this: UCLA has a long history, going back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was Lew Alcindor at the time, and Bill Walton, of having people on their campus that are socially aware and not afraid to rattle the cage a little bit," Mora said. "I just want to make sure that Josh understands that this is a different world and that everything that he does say is being analyzed and sometimes overanalyzed and that he's making good decisions and thinking twice before he speaks and more for his future than anything else. But he's a young man, and he's got his own thoughts, and we want to encourage that."

It's notable that Mora's players don't buy into the notion that Mora is grumpy. When asked what makes Mora angry, it took linebacker Jayon Brown a while before he volunteered that Mora doesn't like fighting at practice. He then noted that Mora regularly consults with players over team issues and logistics, including such basics as food choices in advance of games and potential uniform changes.

"Coach Mora is definitely a players' coach," Brown said. "He's definitely a father figure."

Offensive tackle Conor McDermott spits out a question about Mora's being old-school and offers, "He's the best coach I've ever had. He's unbelievable."

Mora has been open about calling the 2015 season, his fourth in Westwood, and its 8-5 finish "disappointing." But things might be on the uptick this fall, with Rosen touted as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and the defense looking poised for improvement.

The Bruins were picked to win the South Division in the preseason media poll. Mora would probably agree that if the media ends up being right, he'll be a lot less grumpy in 2016.