The hot seat scalded the butt of Jim Mora. The firing of the Bruins head football coach wasn’t much of a shock. The soul-crushing, heart-shattering and painful 28-23 UCLA loss to rival USC was certainly a fireable offense.
With each loss, Mora’s job security outwardly went up in smoke as a fire alarm sounded at the UCLA athletic facility. It certainly didn’t help that the Bruins lost to USC for a third straight year in the annual rivalry game. A plethora of decommitments by recruits, a few injuries and disappointing losses, the school had decided to jettison the coach after another mediocre season.
The misfortunes led to Mora’s departure from UCLA after compiling a 46-30 record in nearly six seasons. On Sunday, he was shown the door, in a hurry as the Bruins have fallen to 5-6 on the season. The perception grew that Mora was slipping below the standards of the football program, falling short in close and winnable games, losing to Pac-12 schools —never winning more than six conference games in any season during his tenure.
The current state of the program begs for clarity, for cultural change, for a new voice. There were speculations, public opinions, rumors, the continued beliefs that the athletic department was eventually planning on relieving Mora of his coaching duties. Frankly, UCLA knew full well that its program needed to make a move, and that was to end a broken marriage with Mora.
The Bruins had risen from obscurity to become noteworthy around college football. That’s in large part because of Mora, for whom lured six straight recruiting classes ranked in the top 20 nationally and brought a national relevance back to the Bruins’ program. That’s in large part because he altered the culture of UCLA football and went 29-11 in three seasons with a trio of wins over USC.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Bruins fans weren’t sold on this guy any longer after back-to-back losing seasons. Everything’s turned out just as everyone envisioned it would turn out. He probably knew what was coming in the wake of his team’s agonizing loss on Saturday. You saw it, saw the Bruins’ football program decline steadily over the last three seasons. This was inevitable with how the season had gone. The downfall of the Mora era quickly escalated, which said a lot about where this thing was going.
Given everything Mora has done for the Bruins, the school gave the coach over $12 million to go away. This is a guy who has been the force behind the Bruins’ overhaul in recent memory. Judging from Mora’s body of work over the last three seasons, it became apparent that change was necessary. He was feisty, exuberant, an erudite philosopher who was about as good as any coach before him. He did an admirable job, but that was before the program went into a tailspin, going just 17-19 since 2015.
Mora’s firing was unfair but totally understandable. UCLA doesn’t tolerate mediocrity. UCLA adopts a fine model that best fits a school that measures success on the scale of Terry Donahue. Everything about this move only seems like an act of desperation. The thinking surely was that Mora would lose his job if the Bruins lost to the Trojans. And he did.
It’s a sad ending to a disastrous story. It’s not that Mora wasn’t a good coach, his time just ran its course at a school where much was expected out of him. From what we can tell, winning is never easy at UCLA and being the football coach offers plenty of challenges. But it’s more likely than not he’ll wind up an assistant or head coach of a top program.
Of course, if he had guided the Bruins to the college football playoffs, he’d had saved his coaching job. Bowl eligibility was not good enough. So Mora was ousted by the administration simply because the Bruins’ ultimate goal was to win a national championship. The most incredible thing is that, during his six-year tenure, the Bruins never appeared in a game on Jan. 1.
He was easily a respected but least popular man in Southern California. The Bruins, after playing in four bowl games and after finishing in the Top 25 twice under his direction, took a step backwards. His team finished 4-8 last year with one of the nation’s worst offenses, he’s only seen the Bruins finish ranked in the Top 10 just once and seen dismal performances that hurt the financial interest of the athletic department because of the substantial drop off in attendance at Rose Bowl.
The loss to USC was more than what alumnus, students and fans could bear. And so, he couldn’t make it to the end of the season. After more than enough time to turn it around, fans were fed up with him and the administration wanted him gone.
It’s a step in the right direction for UCLA, and now the search for a new head coach is already under way. Mora’s downward spiral in Westwood ended earlier than expected but it was eventually going to happen.
And out went Mora.