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UCLA football goes from 'relentlessly positive' to 'hard-nosed'

New Coach Jim L. Mora is introduced at a news conference and brings a sense of intensity and toughness to the Bruins.

December 13, 2011|By Chris Foster
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Workers from the UCLA facilities department were busy Monday morning removing a large placard from the Bruins' football locker room, where it had hung on the wall the last four years.

The "Relentlessly Positive" sign was stored in a shed at the practice facility.

Out with the old; in with the new.

Hours after Rick Neuheisel's catchphrase was taken away, Jim L. Mora's expectations were ushered in.

Mora, hired Friday as coach, met with the team for the first time and there was a clear message that didn't need to be written on the wall. It was etched on a few brains.

"He's a little more hard-nosed," quarterback Kevin Prince said.

"He wants hard-nosed guys," defensive lineman Datone Jones said.

"When he tells you to do something, he is going to expect you to do it," backup quarterback Richard Brehaut said. "He's going to be hard-nosed about that."

At an afternoon news conference at which Mora was introduced there was a security bouncer at the door (though no velvet rope) and catered food (but no bar). There were cheerleaders, former players and the mascot, all part of the made-for-TV show.

Mora's meeting with the players was more about substance than flash.

"I just gave them an overview of what was going to be expected," said Mora, the former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach. "It's interesting that they said, 'hard-nosed.'

"I have been away from coaching two years, but the second I stepped up in front of that team, the emotion and passion all came back."

Said Jones: "He didn't yell or anything like that, but you could feel that intense vibe."

That is what Athletic Director Dan Guerrero sought after firing Neuheisel two weeks ago, though he went through some gyrations to arrive at Mora.

Guerrero said Mora was always on "our short list," though he jokingly defined that list as being anywhere from "one to 100 names."

Mora was the first person Guerrero said he interviewed. "Two, maybe three" others turned aside UCLA's advances.

UCLA approached Boise State's Chris Petersen and reached out to Miami's Al Golden, while a UCLA representative contacted Washington's Steve Sarkisian.

"We made an outreach to ascertain the level of interest," Guerrero said. "In some cases there was no interest."

The focus was mostly on Mora last week.

"Everyone needs to be held accountable," Guerrero said. "Everybody needs an identity. This program needs to be tough, physical and organized. Jim brings all those things to the table."

The players caught on to that immediately.

"He's a different style than Coach Neuheisel, not in a good way or bad way, just different," Prince said. "Coach Neuheisel's whole thing was relentlessly positive. That didn't seem like Coach Mora's vibe. He's a little more old school. I think it will be a good change-up for us."

Mora said UCLA "is an inviting place to go to school, an inviting place to live. The environment sells itself." But he also noted that the football team's facilities, while "not as bad as I thought," needed upgrades.

As for getting players enrolled at UCLA, Mora said, "I look up the coast at Stanford and see that they have all those challenges, yet they're fine. Quite frankly, I want smart football players who are hard-nosed players."

A message that could be hung on the wall?

"You won't see a bunch of those," Mora said. "If you do too many, the message gets lost."

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