When UCLA hired Jim Mora as its next football coach, no one was excited.
Actually, “no one was excited” is putting the reaction of the UCLA fan-base lightly. A more accurate description would hover around “shitstorm” level.
The national media scoffed at the hire, too. What was UCLA thinking when they hired a failed NFL coach — who had major character issues in Atlanta and Seattle — that had the smallest amount of college experience someone can have?
After the Bruins became as irrelevant as you could possibly be under the prodigal son Rick Neuheisel, how could UCLA miss out on Chris Petersen, Mike Leach, Al Golden, Dan Mullen and the rest of those highly-coveted head honchos, just looking for a program to turn around?
Why did UCLA lower its standards to dirt level, and why did they hire this jerk?
Fast forward to National Signing Day, where fans were possibly beginning to see Mora might no be so bad after inking offensive mastermind Noel Mazzone and recruiting whizzes Adrian Klemm and Demetrice Martin, although that acceptance was likely the end of the five stages of grief or, at the very least, cognitive dissonance at work.
Of course, signing five-star DT Ellis McCarthy away from Cal won some fans over, and hustling the commitments of T.J. Millweard, Devin Fuller and Jordan Payton won a good chunk over, too.
By the time the dust settled, UCLA had its 2012 recruiting class ranked top-15 in the nation and fans were beginning to think Mora wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to UCLA football.
But most knew that good recruiting classes should come easy for any UCLA coach; everyone knows that UCLA is an elite academic institution in a beautiful area in Los Angeles with major brand recognition not just nationally, but internationally, too.
But you didn’t have to tell Mora that he hadn’t won everyone over.
Fast forward again, to April of 2012, when UCLA began its spring practices. Fans became curious to see just how much Mora’s Bruins were different than any other UCLA team in years past. The crowds flocked to Spaulding Field to see what kind of show Mora had planned to run.
And by the end of the spring camp with the Spring Game in May, if you weren’t convinced, you were in the minority.
Because for the first time in a while, UCLA looked every bit explosive as their talent could warrant. UCLA wasn’t running some sorry-ass excuse of an offense anymore, and it sure as hell looked nothing like the pistol Rick Neuheisel got a hard-on for while in Westwood.
Less dramatic things happened since that time, and up to the start of the season. Mora bagged on USC more than once, he took his team to San Bernardino to make the squad cohesive, and he recruited his ass off while doing so.
And then UCLA did the unthinkable against Rice to open the season.
They lived up to their expectations.
Everyone forgets that UCLA doesn’t normally like to beat up on teams they’re supposed to beat up on. People forget that UCLA is never supposed to cover the spread, is never supposed to play like they should.
I guess no one gave Jim Mora the memo.
A hearty win against Nebraska later, and people were jumping on the wagon. Mora converted thousands more with just three words late in that game, and one that gave the Bruins an identity of a tough, nasty, explosive football team:
“Finish this motherfucker!”
And finish Nebraska they did.
And here UCLA is, coming off an easy conference road victory, something UCLA fans are damn near total strangers to and something UCLA hasn’t done since dismantling Washington State late in 2009 with a 4-5 record, rendering the game nearly pointless.
All the while, UCLA is 4-1 through five weeks, winning those four games by an average of — you might want to sit down for this — 23 points, while losing by just seven points to the now-14th-ranked Oregon State Beavers, whose 3-0 record is by far the most impressive in the country given the talent of their opponents.
Things feel right about this football team, and people are taking notice. A coach that had never been anything more than a graduate assistant for one year in college is now tied for the third-best record for first-year coaches in the FBS, and tied for tops in the Pac-12 South.
The Bruins are back, barring a very UCLA ending to the season, which doesn’t seem all that likely unless catastrophe strikes (although catastrophe and UCLA seem to be long-time bedfellows).
UCLA fans are as excited as they have been in a long time and the national media is beginning to like the idea of UCLA being good in football. Things, for the first time in a very long time, are looking up for the Bruins. Expectations have skyrocketed midseason and everyone’s sure UCLA can hang with anyone in the nation these days behind redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and an explosive, aggressive UCLA front seven.
The future is bright at UCLA, and that future includes the next seven regular season games. Between now and the game against USC, UCLA can improve by leaps and bounds, inventing itself into a worthy opponent of the highly-vilified Trojans across town, setting up a framework and attitude to become national title contenders as soon as next season.
And all it took was hiring a guy who had never coached a college football game in his life.