Pac Tracks: The continuing mushy case against, and for, UCLA Coach Jim Mora

The future of UCLA football needed one of two kinds of 2017 seasons—really good or really bad.


What it did not need was this: another murky, muddled mess in which Jim Mora can take cover behind a smoke screen of legitimate excuses and a foolproof letter from his team doctor.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this before,” Mora said after an injury-riddled 48-17 loss at Utah dropped the Bruins record to 4-5.

Plenty of UCLA fans will tell you they HAVE seen enough and want Mora gone. But, of course, this isn’t the SEC's Oxford or Gainesville, where industrious folks can get a coach fired any Tuesday with a show of hands and a fat wad of money. Or specific language in a contract citing “moral turpitude” or a “show cause” workaround that can be trip-wired for any coach who may want to exaggerate (or make up) death threats made to his family.

UCLA hasn’t been that kind of place since well, basketball coach Jim Harrick filled out an expense report after dinner with the Collins Twins.

UCLA football, in particular, never sets expectations too high or too low. AD Dan Guererro told the L.A. Times this year the goal was for Mora to compete for the Pac 12 title.

Its goals are never “Win it or else.” UCLA’s top brass would rather not make the tough decisions SEC athletic directors make before lunch.

The UCLA football fan-base machinery also isn’t powerful enough to do anything beyond mount a GoFundMe campaign to fly a protest banner.

Guererro is getting ready to retire. He doesn’t want to hire a new football coach. He would have been forced into action this year had UCLA collapsed with a full arsenal of players, starting with quarterback Josh Rosen.

But this has almost been a repeat of last year’s 4-8, where injuries to Rosen and others have shrouded everything and masked a horrible run defense that ranks second-to-last nationally behind San Jose State.

How does Guerrero evaluate this year?

He probably has to wait until the end of it. Mora is signed through 2021 and his buyout is reportedly around $12 million. UCLA is just not in the business of taking up that kind of collection.

There are certain statements, however, you can unequivocally make: the Rosen Era has been a bust. UCLA is 16-17 in football games since he arrived to lead the Bruins to the College Football Playoff.

The problem is that “extenuating circumstances” have complicated the boxes on Rosen's check list.

Guerrero has to let this thing play out with these parameters: How does Mora’s team respond starting with Saturday’s home game vs. Arizona State? The Bruins are 4-0 at the Rose Bowl and should make it 5-0 if Rosen returns from the concussion that kept him home for the Utah loss.

If the Bruins close with a split against USC and Cal that means a 6-6 finish and a bowl berth.

My guess is the only thing that gets Mora fired is an 0-3 finish leading to another 4-8. And I wouldn’t recommend 1-2 unless the “one” is USC.

There is no doubt Mora would be a goner if he was coaching at Kentucky, but thank God this isn’t Kentucky.

And, once again, the follow up is: who would\could UCLA hire? No one ever seems to have a good answer.

Bob Stoops? (not unless Mrs. Stoops wants to live in Bel Air.)

Chip Kelly? (not unless the school wants to ignore those NCAA violations at Oregon).

Jon Gruden? (Absolutely. But double-dare Gruden to take UCLA over Tennessee).

UCLA continues to be the greatest job no great coach has ever really wanted.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

That’s part of the program’s murky, muddled past and present.

Pac Tracks

--Dante Pettis for Heisman? Washington’s senior star may be the Pac 12’s best candidate after Khalil Tate (Arizona) and Bryce Love (Stanford) suffered losses last week. Pettis doesn’t get much love because he is a night-game receiver on a team that has attempted only 244 passes this year. For contrast, Washington State has attempted 539. Still, Pettis has 49 catches with seven touchdowns to go with his four punt returns for touchdowns. Pettis recorded his NCAA-record ninth punt return for score in Saturday’s win over Oregon.

“Quote this,” Husky tailback Lavon Coleman said of Pettis: “The G.O.A.T. Every time he grabs the ball, if it’s not a fair catch, you’re just waiting to see what he’s going to do.”

--David Shaw has been an outstanding coach at Stanford and should coach there as long as he wants. My only knock against Shaw is that his conservative, NFL-style of coaching is not conducive to college’s four-team playoff system. Shaw’s model is to win close games in the fourth quarter. The problem: if you lose two a year, in college, you’re finished.

Stanford lost another close-to-the-vest one, 24-21, at Washington State last week. “I feel like I let my team down,” Shaw said. “I didn’t’ give our guys a chance to be successful.”

The Conservative Cardinal amassed only 105 passing yards against Washington State.

Stanford is 6-3 this year, with two losses by six points and two wins by four points. In 2015, Stanford had two losses by 12 points and two wins by four points. In 2014, it was three losses by nine points and in 2013, the three losses by 13 points and three wins by 16. Catch my drift?

--Names and numbers. Yeah, yeah, we know Washington’s schedule is weak but there is no denying its defense is one of the nation's best.

Washington ranks No.1 in total defense this week, ahead of No. 2 Alabama.

Alabama is No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing 9.8 points per game. Washington is No. 2, allowing 11.1

Yeah, yeah, we know Part 2: Alabama is better than Washington. But it’s not like the Tide, this year, has played against better competition. Washington is 0-0 against the top 30, according to Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, while Alabama is 1-0 vs. the top 30. The “one” for Alabama is LSU, which lost at home to Troy.

--Oregon, which won 12 straight games against Washington until 2016, has now lost two straight by the combined score of 108-24.

--USC can clinch the Pac South with one win in its last two games against Colorado or UCLA. After that horrific Notre Dame loss, USC Coach Clay Helton proved he hadn’t lost the locker room with two bounce-back wins over Arizona State and Arizona. “There’s never a question mark about these kids and how resilient they are and how prideful they are,” Helton said.

--Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate probably isn’t going to win the Heisman this year but, for the record, he’s rushed for 1,001 yards in his last five games. He finished with 161 rushing yards in Saturday’s loss to USC.[/membership]