Jim L. Mora, like his father Jim E. Mora, has a respected brain for football but a tendency toward rash speech and behavior that turn sentiment against him.
The UCLA Bruins are becoming reality TV, a football version of Jerry Springer’s show where there’s deception, betrayal and physical violence. There was the recent bizarre scene in which rap star Diddy Combs stormed into the team’s weight room and confronted strength coach Sal Alosi about the way he was treating his son, a third-string cornerback.
As the argument escalated, Combs allegedly swung a kettle-bell at Alosi and was arrested for assault. The charges were dropped, but Bruins insiders were left wondering how such a scene could have occurred. How much money did the rapper give to be entitled to the run of the locker room and one-on-one conversations – and arguments — with coaches whenever he wants?
Diddy strikes me as the worst sort of Little League dad.
But even before that episode, there were other troubling developments with the Mora program.
Roquan Smith, a five-star recruit from Macon, Ga., committed on national television to UCLA, but by nightfall he had rescinded, saying he no longer could trust the Bruins.
Smith said Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich assured him he would not be leaving UCLA. But the player had enough contacts with the Atlanta Falcons to learn that they had reached an agreement with Ulbrich to coach their linebackers.
In April there was more embarrassment, when another of UCLA’s prized recruits, Soso Jamabo from Plano, Texas, was arrested on prom night on suspicion of evading arrest, illegally consuming alcohol, driving without a license and running a stop sign.
Again, charges were dismissed. As we say in Texas, kids will be kids.
Jamabo enrolled in summer school at UCLA, but parents of other recruits are not so sure UCLA is the safest place for their sons to be.
So we see Jordan Parker of the 2016 class de-committing from UCLA. He’s considered one of the fastest and best cornerbacks in California – 40 yards in 4.49.
Some of the recruits get cold feet the more they learn about Mora.
In fact, Mora, 53, has a history of flakiness. He bailed on the Falcons with three years remaining on his contract. With his team still in playoff contention late in the 2006 season, he told a Seattle radio station that he would welcome an opportunity to coach the Washington Huskies, calling it his “dream job.”
That comment soon cost him his Falcons job. A 5-11 record would cost him his second head-coaching gig, with the Seattle Seahawks in 2009.
In front of players and reporters at Westwood, Mora once berated a PR staffer for admitting cameramen to a prohibited zone of the practice field. He went on to refer to his publicity staff as “incompetent.”
At the end of last January’s Alamo Bowl, Mora became incensed at Kansas State’s Bill Snyder for trying to submarine UCLA’s victory formation and cause a last-minute fumble. UCLA won the game 40-35, but afterward Mora rebuffed a handshake from the 75-year-old Snyder and thereby became a national symbol of dishonorable sportsmanship.
For what it’s worth, the edgy website Deadspin ran a story headlined: “Jim Mora Is an A-hole.”
Hired by UCLA in December 2011, Mora promised to take the Bruins to the big time. True to his word, he has 29 victories in three seasons, a feat no one else at the school has equaled. By decisively beating cross-town rival USC three times, he won the admiration of most alumni.
The Bruins are in the top 15 in preseason rankings. Running back Paul Perkins is a nominee for the Doak Walker Award, to honor college football’s best running back.
But Mora is in danger of being another Bo Pelini – a capable and successful coach who loses his job because of personal conduct combined with failure to contend for a national championship. It’s difficult for a football program to remain strong if the coach has weak character.