Mora says he's happy with Falcons

ATLANTA -- Coach Jim Mora on Friday said his goal is to stay with the Atlanta Falcons "for a long time," and called his Thursday interview with a Seattle radio station, in which he essentially characterized the head coach position at the University of Washington as his dream job, as only a joke.

"It was me doing a radio interview with a close friend and former college roommate, and just joking about the [Washington] job," Mora told ESPN.com. "In fact, I say two or three times during the thing that I want Ty [Willingham, current Washington coach] to succeed. I mean, I want to be here in Atlanta forever. This is where I want to raise my family. Our 10-year-old, she's how many years away from college, and she's already trying to decide whether she wants to go to Georgia or Georgia Tech. I guess you've got to watch what you say to anybody anymore. I'm doing an interview with my best friend, joking around, and all of a sudden it's a big story. Believe me, there's nothing to it."

The 15-minute interview, on Seattle-based KJR, was hosted by Dave Mahler and Hugh Millen. The latter was a teammate and roommate of Mora at Washington, and the two have remained close friends. A former NFL quarterback, Millen has visited with Mora in Atlanta and stayed as a guest at his home.

With about two minutes remaining in the interview, Mahler asked Mora to make him a promise: "If it ever works out, if there's an opening and you're available, we want you to coach the Huskies," Mahler said.

Mora's response: "Well, I really have a lot of respect for Ty, and I know he'll do a great job. But if he ever decides to move on, and get in the NFL, or, you know, go back to Notre Dame or whatever ... if that job's open, you'll find me at the friggin' head of the line, with my résumé in hand, ready to take that job."

Later in the interview, Mora claims he would take the Washington job even if the Falcons were coming off a Super Bowl victory. At one point, he said: "I don't care if we're in the middle of a playoff run, I'm packing my stuff and coming back to Seattle."

Despite his contention he was not serious, and his reiterations to ESPN.com that he is happy with the Falcons and that there are no indications Willingham is about to be fired, there was no audible hint of jocularity on Mora's part during the interview. About the only time he laughed was when he suggested that, if he ever landed the Washington job, he would have to hire Millen, whom he referred to by his longtime nickname for him, "Dewey," as his quarterbacks coach.

Millen and Mahler seemed to have provided Mora several opportunities during the interview to make light of the session. Each time, Mora dug his hole a bit deeper, even he acknowledged Friday.

"Yeah, I probably should have been a little clearer ... but I just figured everybody knew I was joking," Mora said. "I need to be more careful, I guess, about what I say."

Late in the day, the team issued a news release from Mora. In part, it read: "First and foremost, I'm sorry. ... What I said was not appropriate for my players, the Falcons organization, our fans and Tyrone Willingham. ... I want every fan in Atlanta to know that my heart and passion are right here with the Falcons, and winning our game this weekend."

Certainly, Mora has a strong feel for his alma mater. He was a walk-on defensive back for the Huskies, a standout player and later an assistant coach under Washington legend Don James.

And there is this: Two years ago, when Washington was in the midst of its search for a new coach, some intermediaries at the school spoke to Mora about the job, ESPN.com has learned. There are no indications that Mora, who was coming off his first season in Atlanta, a campaign in which he led the Falcons to the NFC championship game, ever discussed the opening with university officials. But he had in-depth talks with the intermediaries before opting to not pursue the job.

Friday, Washington officials released a statement which said, in part: "The leadership at UW has the greatest confidence that [Willingham] will soon return UW to its place as one of the elite college football programs in Division I football. It is certainly an expectation of ours that there would be a great deal of interest in what we feel like is one of the top head coaching jobs in the country. However, the position is simply not available and we have no expectation that it will be in the forseeable future."

Mora, 45, is in his third season with the Falcons, his first job as an NFL head coach, and has compiled a 27-20 record, to counting playoff games After an 11-5 mark in 2004, his debut season, the Falcons fell to 8-8 in 2005, despite a 6-2 start to the season. Atlanta is 7-6 this year and battling for an NFC wild card spot.

There has been speculation Mora's job security is tenuous, and owner Arthur Blank recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that an 8-8 record and a non-playoff year were not acceptable. There have been no signs, however, that Blank is inclined to dismiss Mora, whom he likes. It is more likely that Blank, who sought changes on Mora's coaching staff a year ago but was rebuffed, might mandate changes among the assistants.

Whether a joke or not, Mora's comments in the radio interview likely will not play well with Blank, who has expressed concerns in the past about his coach's temperament and missteps.

On Friday, at least, Blank seemed to buy the story that the interview was misinterpreted and attempted, in a statement released by the team, to get everyone refocused on Saturday night's game against Dallas at the Georgia Dome. Given their time together, however, it's probably a safe bet that Blank and Mora will have further discussions about the remarks.

"Everyone, including Jim, needs to be focused on winning tomorrow's game," Blank said in the statement. "We don't want this event to be a distraction to him, our other coaches, or our players. Jim's passion and commitment to Atlanta have never been a question. He has apologized for inappropriate remarks and he understands the broader implications of what he said and how he said it, none of which were intended. We hope our fans will not interpret this in any way as a lack of commitment on anyone's part at the Falcons."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.