UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero didn't want to do this--you know he didn't.
The last thing on Earth he wanted was to conduct another football coaching search as he heads toward umbrella-drink retirement in 2019.
But, if it was ever going to happen, it was going to happen Sunday. Terrible timing for Jim Mora.
The athletic department was coming off its worst public relations weeks after the shoplifting fiasco in China.
Guerrero, who was on the trip, was already in a foul mood and so was Chancellor Gene Block, also on the China trip with his wife. It was an embarrassing, humiliating escapade that is not over yet. UCLA got in bed with LaVar Ball's family and woke up Sunday to a tweet fight between Ball and the President of the frigging United States.
Another loss to USC, on Saturday, well, that had to be tipping point. Who cares how hard the Bruins played? Guerrero decided not to wait to see if Mora could become bowl eligible at 6-6 with a win over Cal next week. He wasn't going to allow GoFundMe a chance to fly another plane banner over the Rose Bowl. If you don't think Guerrero is pissed off, understand this. He fired Mora on Jim's 56th birthday.
“Making a coaching change is never easy, but it’s an especially difficult decision when you know that a coach has given his all to our university,” Guerrero said in a statement. “Jim helped reestablish our football program and was instrumental in so many ways in moving the program forward."
It was the right move--I just never thought Dan had the guts to do it. I said it three years ago, two years ago, one year ago and one month ago: Mora's future with UCLA was tied to Josh Rosen. If they didn't win together, they'd go out together. And that's the way it's going to happen.
Yeah, there were a lot of injuries, but the bottom line is the bottom line: the Bruins' record in the Josh Rosen era stands at 17-19. Rosen didn't play in all those games, but that's the era. UCLA went to the Foster Farms bowl two years ago, and lost it, to 5-7 Nebraska. That was followed by last year's 4-8 drop off and this year's 5-6 face plant.
Rosen was supposed to be a generational, transcendent player. And if he wasn't, that was never, ever going to be Rosen's fault.
Mora's first three years at UCLA were a promising 29-11, which included three wins over sanctions-weakened USC. The last three years have been a slippery-slope slide.
Mora has a $12 million buyout clause and it is important to note that UCLA's statement specifically mentioned payment would not come from boosters (i.e. Casey Wasserman), but with "athletic-department generated funds." This is the new power of Pac 12 revenue streams and more important, the schools' $280 million deal with Under Armour.
No more looking under couch cushions for buyout money. But still, this was a bold swallow for a state school notoriously frugal and deliberative.
And this brings us to "what's next." UCLA is better positioned now to hire a top-shelf coach. It is paying top dollar (finally) for assistant coaches, yet the school remains a mysterious, bedeviling jewel. Or is it Pandora's box?
So where does the school turn? For many years, with mixed results, UCLA relied on cheap labor and former players to get the job done: Terry Donahue, Karl Dorrell, Rick Neuheisel. The school doesn't have to do that any more. Here are my thoughts on coaches UCLA should consider: [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
1: Chip Kelly. Of course you call Chip Kelly. Part of the problem of moving a coach and his family to Westwood is the logistics. And it's expensive. Where do you live? How do the kids fit in? Chip Kelly doesn't have that problem. He's a free agent, with seemingly no external ties, who seems to live out of a suitcase. Hiring Kelly, and all his foibles and NCAA issues, would instantly make him the best college football coach in town. USC has better players but Kelly has 10-times more swagger than Trojans' Coach Clay Helton. Kelly also has an uptempo, sophisticated offense. And unlike Rosen and UCLA, Oregon didn't whiff on Marcus Mariota, who was developed by Chip Kelly and won the Heisman Trophy.
2: Mike Leach. He inquired, behind the scenes, about the job UCLA gave to Jim Mora. Look at Leach now? He's having a superstar season at Washington State but his act may need a bigger stage. Leach is quirky, unconventional and NOT the UCLA-type in terms of following lines of bureaucratic order. But he's a difference maker, with Showtime personality and a law degree from Pepperdine. He has the acumen and moxie to to lead the Bruins to their first Pac title since....1998.
3: Bob Stoops: I know, I know, it sounds weird. But he's also a free agent, having "retired" from Oklahoma last spring. This only works if Mr. Stoops is bored and Mrs. Stoops maybe wants to get out of Norman. Maybe she's always wanted to live in Bel Air. Who knows? But Bob's won a ring (in 2000), so I'd give him a ring.
4: Outside the box. Mike Norvell (Memphis), Mike Campbell (Iowa State). Norvell knows the conference having served as offensive coordinator at Arizona State. More important, he has Memphis humming in a year that included a big win over...UCLA. Campbell appears to be a "riser" in the mold of Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech) and Tom Herman (Texas). Imagine if you were brave enough to hire Urban Meyer when he was the head coach at Bowling Green? Utah was and it paid off with an undefeated season, and Fiesta Bowl championship, in 2004. It was only then that big fish (Florida, Notre Dame) got interested.
5: Justin Fuente. Yeah, the guy I just mentioned. You're not going to pry Herman out of Texas, but if Fuente was ever looking to get out of Blacksburg, Virginia...
6: NOT a coordinator. It's probably not going to fly, although Joe Moorhead at Penn State is going to get hired by somebody. I just don't see UCLA, at this point, taking a chance on somebody without major-college experience. Even if Moorhead was once the head coach at by-god Fordham!
7: Jon Gruden. Ah, go ahead, what's it going to hurt? He and his agent will get a kick out of building it up, then shooting it down.
8: Terry Donahue. Tan and rested. [/membership]