As expected, UCLA named Jim L. Mora, a former University of Washington defensive back/linebacker (1981-83) and head coach of the Seahawks (2009), Saturday as its head football coach, replacing Rick Neuheisel, a former Husky head coach (1999-02). Mora becomes the first coach hired by UCLA in more than 60 years with no ties to the school — except a marginal one.
Mora’s father, Jim E. Mora, served as an assistant at UCLA (the younger Mora was born in Los Angeles) in 1974 before joining Don James’ staff at UW, a position he held from 1975-77, and one which he eventually quit in order to become an assistant with the Seahawks.
Four years after the elder Mora departed UW, the younger Mora walked on at the school after graduating from Bellevue’s Interlake High School, ultimately earning three UW letters. In 1984, James gave Mora his first coaching job as a graduate assistant.
Mora spent one year at UW before launching what became a 25-year NFL coaching career. After serving as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, he received his first head coaching job in 2004, with Atlanta, but lost it when, among other things, he infuriated Falcons’ ownership with a remark he made during a radio interview in Seattle.
On Dec. 14, 2006, with the Falcons statistically alive in their quest for the playoffs, Mora mentioned during an interview with Dave “Softy” Mahler and former Huskies teammate/roommate Hugh Millen on sports-talk radio station 950 KJR-AM that Washington was his “dream job,” and that if it were offered, he would take the head coaching position (a job not open), “even if (the Falcons) were in a playoff run.”
While Mora later insisted he was only kidding, he was criticized by Falcons fans, as well as members of the national media, who argued that such comments were irresponsible. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank publicly expressed disapproval of Mora’s comments, and the Falcons fired Mora following the season.
That’s when then-general manager Tim Ruskell brought Mora back to Seattle as “assistant head coach/secondary” for the Seahawks (Jan. 21, 2007), with a plan to succeed then-head coach Mike Holmgren. A year later, when Holmgren announced his retirement effective at the end of the 2008 season, the Seahawks announced Mora as their head coach-in-waiting.
Mora turned down an offer to coach the Washington Redskins in order to remain with the Seahawks, and the Redskins job went to Seattle assistant Jim Zorn, who accepted it after learning that he wouldn’t be considered as a replacement for Holmgren.
Zorn lasted two years (2007-08) in Washington, but Mora lasted just one year in Seattle, the Seahawks cutting him loose on Jan. 8, 2010, following a 5-11 record in 2009.
A month before Mora officially replaced Holmgren (Jan. 13, 2009), UW filled Mora’s “dream job” with Steve Sarkisian, replacing Tyrone Willingham. While Mora went 5-11 in his only season with the Seahawks, Sarkisian began his rebuild of the Huskies with a 5-7 record (2009).
Mora has spent the last two seasons with as a color analyst on NFL broadcasts. His Seahawks contract paid him the last two years. Its final year is 2012. It’s not clear whether the Seahawks will continue to pay him after assuming the UCLA post.
He emerged as the top candidate in UCLA’s coaching search late last week after the school considered Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Miami’s Al Golden, all of whom apparently showed little interest in UCLA, the most underachieving school in the Pac-12 given its recruiting base. A Los Angeles Times report this week said UCLA had approached Sarkisian about filling the vacancy, but Sarkisian denied any contact.
Other than quipping that Washington was his dream job, Mora has never expressed much interest in college coaching. But he will be introduced as UCLA’s head coach at a press conference next week.
UCLA (6-7) will play Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco Dec. 31 under interim coach Mike Johnson, Neuheisel’s offensive coordinator. Johnson also served as Mora’s quarterbacks coach for two seasons with the Falcons.
The Bruins haven’t played in a Rose Bowl in 13 seasons and haven’t been ranked for more than five, both school-record streaks.