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UCLA football adjusts to changes as it prepares for bowl game

New Coach Jim L. Mora is expected to arrive in town Monday, as assistant coaches weigh their options. Players say they won't be distracted as they practice to play Illinois in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

December 11, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Says UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince of the last few 'weird' weeks: "You just had to go with the flow and try to do your job."
Says UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince of the last few 'weird' weeks:… (Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire )

UCLA resumed football practice Sunday, with new Coach Jim L. Mora expected to be in Westwood on Monday. There were still things to settle.

Mike Johnson, the Bruins' interim coach, has been contacted by Akron, his alma mater, about the Zips' head coaching position. Johnson said he also will meet with Mora about staying on.

Jim Mastro, run-game coordinator, missed practice. He was in Pullman, Wash., preparing to join the Washington State staff.

UCLA players, meanwhile, broke a sweat in the first day of preparation to play Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, knowing they had a successor for Rick Neuheisel, who was fired Nov. 28.

"The last couple weeks have been weird," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "You just had to go with the flow and try to do your job."

Mora, hired Friday, finished up his last day as an analyst for the NFL network before taking over the program. He will meet with staff.

Johnson was Atlanta's offensive coordinator in 2004 when Mora was the Falcons' head coach.

Mora, whose expertise is on the defensive side, needs someone with college recruiting experience. Johnson, the Bruins' offensive coordinator this season, would seem a good fit, though he was fired by Mora in Atlanta.

"We have both matured in terms of our relationships with each other and I think we're on very good terms right now," Mora said Saturday.

Johnson said, "I don't think our past relationship has anything to do with going forward." Johnson, who has one year left on his contract at $390,000, indicated he would like to stay.

"I love L.A, it's the place I grew up in and the place I have always called home," Johnson said. "I'm capable of doing the job if asked to do it."

But Johnson, a former Akron quarterback, also will be interviewed by Akron officials this week.

Mastro will join the Washington State staff, though he is expected to stay at UCLA until after the bowl game. Mastro has one year left on his contract at $235,000.

With that as a backdrop, UCLA players got back to work, trying to put the coach search behind them.

"You find out your coach got fired, and you remember they always say not to pick a school because of the coach," cornerback Randall Carroll said. "You have to be a little selfish. It's not me getting fired. I can't be too mad. Now we have a new coach."

Players were in the dark throughout the search.

"It was tough not to follow it," Prince said. "I wasn't looking up stuff all the time. At the end of the day, I would see if there was anything going on."

The bowl game gives the Bruins an additional 15 days of practice, some of which could be under the watchful eye of their new coach.

Defensive tackle Cassius Marsh was eager to have a defensive specialist as head coach but has held off researching Mora.

"I didn't check him out on the Internet," Marsh said. "The Internet makes people look good and makes people look bad.… I can't pass too much judgment or give an opinion on someone I don't know."

Besides, Marsh said, "we have to get ready for a bowl game. We have to show the world that we may have lost our coach, but it's not the end of our season."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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