Mora chooses stability over suitors

Football coaches bounce around like pingpong balls. It's the world they live in. Sometimes, it's their choice. A lot of times, it's not.

Jim Mora was over the bouncing, or as he calls it, the perpetual climb that's as much a part of the coaching profession as calling plays and motivating players.

If not, Mora could just as easily be strolling the Texas sideline instead of leading his No. 12-ranked Bruins when they take on the Longhorns on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

Had it been 10 years ago, maybe even five years ago, he would have jumped at the opportunity to coach the Longhorns.

But not now. Not at this juncture of his life. And not with his family all so close by on the West Coast.

"That's No. 1 in his life, his family," said Mora's dad, Jim E. Mora, who spent 40 years in coaching at 10 different stops. "His job's important to him, and he's good at it. But it's not No. 1 in his life. That spot belongs to his family."

The Longhorns came after Mora with a Texas-sized pitch back in January. They met for four hours at a private home in Manhattan Beach, California. It was an eye-opening experience, even for somebody as seasoned as Mora, who had already been an NFL head coach at two different stops.

He was up front with the Texas brass about how important it was for his parents to be at games. They live in Palm Desert and make the two-hour drive to Pasadena for every home game. His father is even around for some practices.

During those conversations, Texas offered to send a private jet to pick up Mora's parents, and anybody else he wanted, and bring them to all of the Longhorns' games.

"I'm like, 'Is there a bottom to your bucket?'" Mora said he remembers thinking at the time.

But the more he thought about it, the more he kept coming back to one central theme: He finally felt at home with his entire family, and it certainly helped that UCLA's administration stepped up to the plate and made a significant financial commitment to both Mora and his staff.

Keep in mind that Texas wasn't the only school wooing him. Washington, Mora's alma mater, also had made a run a few weeks earlier.

UCLA knew it had to act, and did with a new contract that runs through 2019 and pays Mora an average of $3.3 million per year. He also received more than $1 million to sweeten the deals of his assistant coaches, and construction on a new $50 million football practice complex is scheduled to begin by October 2015. Mora has an escape clause in his contract that would allow him to leave without penalty if the university doesn't meet that deadline on the new facilities.

"I know it sounds really corny. But you try to teach them how to be good men and you start telling them all these things and demanding things from them, and then all of a sudden, you just turn and run from them? I don't know. I don't like that. I don't like how I would have felt about myself." Jim Mora, on considering other jobs.

"All of that had a lot to do with me staying, but it wasn't everything," said Mora, who won 21 of his first 29 games at UCLA, guided the Bruins to nine wins or more in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-98, and perhaps most importantly, has beaten crosstown rival USC each of his first two seasons.

"The big thing was that I don't want to jump around. I'm tired of doing that. More than anything, I feel like I'm done trying to climb and having it be more about me. Maybe it's because I'm older now [53 in November]. I want to be somewhere. I want to have an effect on other people, and I made a commitment to these kids."

By kids, he means all of them -- his biological children and his players at UCLA.

Mora and his wife, Shannon, live in Manhattan Beach and have four children. Their two oldest, Cole and Lillia, are in college. Cole plays soccer at Claremont McKenna College, which is about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, and Lillia is a freshman at USC. Their two youngest, Ryder and Trey, are still finishing up high school and middle school, respectively, and they're involved in everything from lacrosse to soccer to football.

"It's nice to have everybody in the same spot, to be able to go to soccer games and lacrosse games and have dinner with my parents," Mora said. "You can't put a value on that."

In that same vein, he'd spent two years preaching to his players at UCLA about building something together at a place known more for basketball than football.

"I made a commitment to these kids. They made a commitment to me," Mora said. "I'm not going to run out on them. You're always trying to teach them these lessons. I know it sounds really corny. But you try to teach them how to be good men and you start telling them all these things and demanding things from them, and then all of a sudden, you just turn and run from them?

"I don't know. I don't like that. I don't like how I would have felt about myself."

The ironic thing is that Mora got himself into hot water in 2006 when he was coaching the Atlanta Falcons by telling a Seattle radio station that he'd be at the head of the line with his "résumé in hand" if the University of Washington job ever came open. He's always insisted that he was joking, and to be fair, one of his old teammates and roommates at Washington was one of the radio hosts conducting the interview. Mora has said that the entire incident went a long way toward costing him his job when the Falcons fired him following the season.

Whatever the truth was back then, it's clear that the Mora we see today is grounded and possesses a clarity about life and football.

"The older you get, the more clearly you see things sometimes," Mora said.

He didn't have to look far, either, for some sage advice. There were times during his father's long and successful career that he opted not to take a job because he didn't think it was right for his family at the time.

While the elder Mora didn't browbeat his son when some of these jobs were dangling back in the winter, he made his feelings known.

"I'd hoped that he would stay and told him that," Jim E. Mora said. "I don't like it when these coaches move around all the time. He was out of coaching when he got this opportunity at UCLA and had hired a good staff. I know it happens in this business when guys pick up and move right after they get somewhere, but I didn't think it was a good business decision for Jim.

"It's always nice to be wanted no matter what profession you're in. But Jim made the decision for all of the right reasons. It was important to him to stay there and finish it at UCLA."

And to keep it in the family.