UConn’s Impressive New Head Coach: Jim Mora, Jr.

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.

The Randy Edsall 2.0 Experiment is Finally Over

In what felt likely an oddly timed announcement, Randy Edsall declared to the world after losing to FCS Holy Cross that at the end of the 2021 season he would be retiring as the UConn Football coach. Then, just days later, it’s announced that Edsall is stepping down as the head coach effective immediately in a “mutual decision” between Athletic Director David Benedict and Edsall. Like his first tenure with the Huskies, the ending of UConn and Edsall 2.0 is messy and odd. There is one thing Edsall is consistently good at: leaving programs in unceremonious ways.

As a fan of the Huskies football program, I’m not unhappy with the turn of events the last few days. I was relieved when I heard the news that Edsall would retire at the end of the season because frankly he’s done absolutely nothing to turn this program around in his second stint as head coach. There was so much hype and hope after canceling last season and seemingly taking the surprise extra time to work on fundamentals and strengthening the players within the program. There was a buzz around recruiting within the new independent schedule and it appeared as if we might see an improved team in 2021, even if there was still plenty of room for growth. Unfortunately, the first two games proved that there has been very little, if any, progress to show for the year without games. In some ways, they took a massive step backward.

From my vantage point, it feels like Edsall realized his job was on the line after getting blown out by Fresno State and losing in embarrassing fashion to FCS Holy Cross, so in an effort to save face by putting an end date on his career and controlling the narrative, he made the retirement announcement. It wouldn’t shock me if David Benedict wasn’t pleased with that move and made it clear that the product on the field wasn’t acceptable. Benedict was probably planning, or at least considering, letting Edsall go in the short term and gave him the choice to step down and leave gracefully or be fired. If I’m the AD at UConn after Saturday’s performance, Edsall’s on the next bus out of town.

Ultimately, a change needed to happen and the quicker it happens, the quicker the program can begin to rebound and get a new head coach with a new direction, hopefully a successful one. For now, defensive coordinator Lou Spanos will lead the Huskies, presumably at least until the end of the season. Benedict now gets a chance to at least see what Lou can do as head coach to determine if he should be seriously considered for the permanent gig. Who knows what the future will hold, but the present is messy.