When UConn announced the signing of their new head coach on Thursday, opinions began flying. The hire seemed to be met with mixed feelings, some wanting a younger coach to grow with the program and others liking the veteran hire with proven experience. My first reaction? Surprise and excitement. My feelings after sitting with it for a day or so? Surprise and excitement. Let the Jim Mora, Jr. era at UConn begin.
Regardless of your initial feelings on Mora, he comes into Storrs as the most accomplished UConn head coach of all time and the one with the most impressive resume. He joins the elite company of Nick Saban at Alabama and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan as the only active coaches who have multiple 10-win FBS seasons and were head coaches in the NFL. That doesn’t mean Mora will be successful in turning around the struggling Huskies program, but it does mean he’s been there and done that. He’s seen all levels of football and has a proven track record of developing college players and handing them off to the NFL, which is a huge bonus in recruiting.
One of the biggest knocks on Mora and a concern of mine, is that he has been out of the coaching game for the past 5 years. While that could mean he is a little out of touch with the current high school recruit, it could also mean he comes into the job renewed and refreshed, ready to take on the massive challenge of rebuilding a program that has completely lost it’s way. At 59 (almost 60), Mora comes into the job with a 46-30 FBS record in his 6 seasons with UCLA, bringing them to 4 bowl games and winning 2 in his first 4 seasons with the Bruins. That was following 4 years as a head coach in the NFL, 3 with the Falcons and 1 with the Seahawks (along with some assistant coaching work in between).
“I was brutally honest about the opportunity and the challenge. I needed to make sure he was fully committed, fully aware, fully prepared to take this on. He will come in with his eyes wide open.”UConn Athletic Director David Benedict
Mora is coming to UConn with an understanding of the current situation. He mentioned that he started following UConn when Randy Edsall decided (was forced?) to leave and has been watching closely since. “From what I’ve watched on TV, I see a team that’s going through a really difficult transition but is continuing to fight for each other, play hard, demonstrate effort and a good attitude. That’s something we can build on.” Working with the current team, Mora understands that recruiting will take time and is critical. It doesn’t make sense to pursue top-rated players day one, but rather focus on local prospects in order to stabilize the program, taking advantage of recruiting opportunities when they present themselves.
“A team that plays with great discipline, great toughness, plays with a passion that jumps out at people whether in stands or at home watching on TV. Elite effort at all times. I want people to be proud of our football team.”UConn Head Coach Jim Mora, Jr.
Mora has a plethora of experience on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive coordinator for 49ers and a defensive backs coach for the Seahawks, Saints, and Chargers. He will expect discipline, which is sorely needed at UConn right now, especially on defense, and will hopefully be able to develop some of the young talent on that side of the ball. My hope is that Mora will instill a belief in the players that if they play hard and within the rules, they will continue to grow and improve, even if the wins aren’t piling up in year 1 or 2. There is a reason Mora has a 5-year contract. This program will take quite a while to turn around and raise to the level we all hope and expect.
The fact that a UConn program that hasn’t had a winning record since their 2010 Fiesta Bowl season and hasn’t had more than 3 wins since 2015 can attract a name like Jim Mora, Jr. is a testament to the commitment of Athletic Director David Benedict. When he took the football program independent, there were a lot of skeptics, but he has put together some pretty impressive schedules of opponents the next few years and has now found the man to revive this program. Regardless of whether Mora was your first choice for the next head coach or not, it’s hard to argue that the Huskies are not in a better place today then they were a few days ago. There is at least some reason for optimism.