There Is Only One Pete Carroll, U.C.L.A.
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 12, 2011
U.C.L.A. just saw the second part of the “Matrix” trilogy, loves Linkin Park’s new album and can’t believe they cancelled “Dawson’s Creek.” The Bruins are living in the past, and not the recent past: U.C.L.A.’s mindset is trapped in 2003, when everyone — not just the Bruins — was looking for the next Pete Carroll, an N.F.L. coach with a golden touch for the college game. Unfortunately, it’s no longer 2003. It’s no longer than 2005, 2007 or 2009. It’s 2011, and in hiring Jim Mora as Rick Neuheisel’s placement, U.C.L.A.’s football program shows how far behind the curve it really is.
Only U.C.L.A. would hire a coach 27 years removed from a single season spent on the college ranks: Mora has three more years of college playing experience than college coaching experience. That was in 1984, when a fresh-faced Mora went straight from the Washington secondary — he was a solid defensive back for the Huskies — to the Washington sidelines.
Like Carroll, whose last college experience prior to being hired at U.S.C. in 2001 came in 1983, Mora spent the ensuing 20-plus years in the N.F.L., all on the defensive side of the ball. Like Carroll, Mora inherited an enviable coaching situation and fell flat: Carroll flamed out at New England, Mora at Atlanta.
Each had single-season stints elsewhere: Carroll with the Jets, Mora, most recently, with the Seahawks. The N.F.L. experience is strikingly similar. But U.C.L.A. cares little for those similarities; U.C.L.A. is looking at Carroll’s landscape-changing era with the Trojans and dreaming big, imagining a similar, Mora-led run with the Bruins.
There’s only problem, and it’s fairly significant issue. There is only one Pete Carroll. Say it again: there is only one Pete Carroll. There has never been another one like him, there isn’t anyone else like him — the N.F.L. coach best fit for the college game — and, believe it or not, Mora is no Pete Carroll.
Think about the long, undistinguished list of coaches hired to duplicate Carroll’s success. There was Karl Dorrell, who U.C.L.A. hired in 2003 to keep pace with U.S.C.’s burgeoning dynasty. Texas A&M’s Mike Sherman; Nebraska’s Bill Callahan; Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis — you go on and on, listing names hired as programs looked to find the next coach whose N.F.L. background gave them a leg up on their college-based counterparts.
But none made it happen. None could do what Carroll did, since schools failed to grasp the one thing that made his tenure at U.S.C. so different: it wasn’t his N.F.L. background, but rather his ability to motivate — to reach players, both as potential recruits and as signed-and-delivered players in his system. Few have understood how to better motivate college players.
In hiring Mora, U.C.L.A. has ignored the decade-long trend of B.C.S. conference programs signing a Pete Carroll wanna-be and regretting the results. Think Nebraska wouldn’t turn back the clock and hire a coach more well-suited to the college game?
Would A&M turn back the clock and hire a coach with a better grasp of how to develop players for the college game? Think Notre Dame wouldn’t go back and hire any coach with at least a few years of college experience?
The Mora hire reeks of desperation. And the worst kind of desperation: misguided desperation, the sort aimed in the absolutely wrong direction. The Bruins needed a proven college coach, if only because this specific team — the one heading into 2012 — has enough talent to be a Pac-12 South contender. Instead, the Bruins will hit an inevitable learning curve; more specifically, Mora will need a learning curve.
I suppose there was no other way this disastrous coaching search could end. U.C.L.A.’s search started strong, with an offer going out to Chris Petersen and inquiries towards Al Golden, but ended with an unbelievable whimper.
Or a shrug, as it’s clear that athletic director Dan Guerrero did little homework in his search and cares even less about the future of this football program.
There’s only one Pete Carroll. Jim Mora, like a Sherman, Callahan or Weis, is no Carroll. And in trying to catch up with the Trojans a decade too late, U.C.L.A.’s coaching search found an uninspired — and fairly embarrassing — conclusion. Why can’t the Bruins see what everyone else sees?
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Tags: Dan Guerrero, Jim Mora, Pete Carroll, U.C.L.A., U.S.C.
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