New Coach Jim Mora started his transformation of the UCLA football program… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
The Jim Mora era has begun with a #$@#.
In UCLA's first spring pads practice Saturday, in front of several hundred fans whose jaws need to be scraped off Spaulding Field, the new coach lit a fuse under the traditional Bruins culture and blew it to blue bits.
He cursed. Lordy, did he curse. At one point midway through the practice, he gathered his team around him and screamed at them for several long and loud profane minutes. He informed them that their effort stunk and invited them to leave the field if their effort continued to stink, all in words that made the grass blush.
He chased. He ran to slap the pads of players who made big downfield plays or sideline tackles. He ran to scream at players who messed up over the middle. He once even ran after a lineman who was trudging to the sidelines, profanely ordering the player to either start sprinting off the field or just sprint to the locker room.
He controlled. He would angrily order entire units off the field. He would confront assistant coaches with sweeping gestures. At one point he even ran to the sidelines and scolded a student manager who had set his water bottles on the ground and turned them into a safety hazard.
And, oh yeah, in his first battle for credibility and change, Jim Mora won.
A practice that began like a Saturday morning stroll ended in what felt like a Saturday night mosh pit. Players were flying at each other, screaming at each other, racing from huddle to sideline to drill as if they were being chased.
By the time Mora finally shut down the obnoxious piped-in crowd noise — yes, this is a coach who actually simulated crowd noise on April 7 — the traditionally laid-back Bruins had been transformed into a bunch of guys looking for a fight.
UCLA perhaps hasn't had a football practice this intense since Terry Donahue would get grumpy. This was the opposite of Bob Toledo, miles from Karl Dorrell, and a completely different game from the one played by Rick Neuheisel. In the end, the energy was so frantic that I thought for a moment I was watching a typical practice at — gasp — USC.
This wasn't a practice. It was an action movie: Call it "Mora, Mora, Mora."
"A total transformation," said Kevin Prince, the tough fifth-year quarterback. "A tougher mentality."
This transformation was what Dan Guerrero hired. This mentality is what UCLA has long been missing. Aside from having to cover their children's ears, I'm guessing this practice was about as much fun as a UCLA fan could have without beating the Trojans.
However, as practice ended nearly three hours after it began, with the sun high and players gasping, I'm sure I had the same two thoughts shared by many of those fans.
It's about time. But is it about reality?
This was Mora's first padded practice as a college coach, so maybe he was going overboard to establish his NFL reputation? Is this how he will consistently run practices? And if so, does UCLA have enough talent and endurance to turn his energy into something beyond hollow shouting? Is this all for wins or just show?
Jeff Ulbrich, the Bruins' new special teams coach who played for Mora when he was defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, said the answer was simple.
"This is normal, this is Jim, and this is just the beginning," he said. "We're going to get a faster tempo. We're going to get more physical. Once guys get settled in, we're really gonna go."
But what about all the dramatic shouting and inventive cursing?
"Jim is a very passionate coach. This is a big deal to him, and when he sees us not coaching and playing to the level we need to be, we'll hear about it," Ulbrich said. "I'm telling you, guys appreciate that; kids want it. They want to be disciplined. They want it to be hard."
Mora seems to truly believe this and will not apologize for it.
"My job is to set a standard. My job is to never let that standard dip, and if it does, it's my job to get it pushed back up again," Mora said after Saturday's practice. "If I don't do those things, I'm failing the players, the coaching staff, the UCLA fans, this entire university.... And I'm not going to fail."
Mora said that standard is set in the stone of his longtime football philosophy.
"We have to develop a sense of urgency in everything we do," he said. "I tell the players, every day, we have to find a new level."
OK, so he got a little red-faced when I asked him about stooping to the level of that public cursing. But he said he hopes the fans understand.
"I have to be very careful with my language. I felt really bad about some of the things I said today," he said. "But I have a passion that creeps out sometimes, and I'm not going to apologize for it."
Here's guessing that the only apologies expected by Bruins fans who witnessed Saturday's thriller were from those Bruins fans who missed it.