Behind each player that takes the field on Saturdays, there’s an unknown mentor leading him to success. Behind every great team are even greater, lesser-known coaches. And behind Jim Mora is a talented staff of assistants that have his back every step of the way.
Enter Noel Mazzone, Lou Spanos, Steve Broussard and Adrian Klemm—the driving forces behind the scenes of UCLA football. With over 65 years of combined coaching experience at both the college and professional level, mistakes are rare with this group (and quickly fixed when they do arise). In case you’ve never heard of the 10,000-hour rule, it basically states that expertise in a field can be achieved after 10,000 hours of practice. The UCLA assistant coaching staff has racked up around 600,000 hours on the football field, leading to true mastery in the art of coaching, and it showed in the on-field product last year.
Alright already, enough with all the random statistics. What does this staff really mean to the Bruins? What do they really do? I’ll break it down coach-by-coach, giving you a chance to see that stars like Anthony Barr and Brett Hundley—while products of their own hard work and dedication—are also developing as the coaches teach them.
Let’s kick things off with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. If this crew were The Avengers, Mazzone would be Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). He is the brains behind every offensive play on the field, accounting for linemen, receivers and anyone else out there in the huddle. In order to utilize the full firepower of the offense (better yet the Iron Man suit), Mazzone masterminded a pass-first plan that runs like a well-oiled machine. It was a combination of Hundley’s talents as a young quarterback and Mazzone’s play development that led UCLA to a 9-3 regular season record.
Next up is defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. To stay true to our Avengers analogy, we’ll call him Captain America. Spanos’ 3-4 defense is relentlessly active and intense, much like the barrage of the Captain’s All-American attack. Each play is as serious as winning or losing a game, and it all comes down to conditioning (shout out to S&C coach Sal Alosi).
The Bruins developed qualities of speed, strength, agility and leadership working with Spanos and Alosi, tossing out the label of “soft” stuck over the program since the late 90s. Spanos engineered a defense that really went to work last season, and was clearly an inspiration and encouragement to players like Barr and Andrew Abbott, defenders who broke out as stars in one year with him. His expertise should have UCLA set on defense for some time to come.
Finally, we reach the combination of Broussard and Klemm, and we’ll go with Hawkeye and the Black Widow. Broussard coaches the running backs and is great at what he does, but it’s the support of Klemm that led the Bruins to big-time success last year. Klemm, being the running game coordinator and O-Line coach is the reason that Broussard’s backs can break away for runs. On the flip side, without Broussard’s backs, Klemm’s setup would be rendered mostly useless. Much like Hawkeye and the Black Widow, Klemm and Broussard wouldn’t make the impact they do without each other.
And it concludes in a finished loop. Klemm’s work with the offensive line allows time in the pocket for Hundley. Once Hundley has time in the pocket, Mazzone’s plays can take effect. Of course, the Bruins can’t just pass the ball, so here comes Broussard to the rescue with his running backs. And what happens when UCLA puts points on the board or gets stopped just shy? Out comes the defense of Spanos, and the trend continues.
Of course, no organization functions well without its leader. For the Avengers, that’s Nick Fury. For the Bruins, it’s Coach Mora. Without Jim at the top, the whole thing could come crashing down. And we’d be remiss to leave out the host of others who make UCLA football function, from Jeff Ulbrich to Eric Yarber to all the hardworking graduate assistants. For a team like UCLA, which has such a marvelous cast of coaches, falling short of greatness would be a shame. But for the record, I’m counting on quite the opposite.