Jim Mora is a man of unbridled passion and, at times, impulse. He comes by it naturally, as anyone who has seen his father’s famous podium tirades (“Playoffs? Playoffs?”) already knows.
The younger Mora has spent his whole life bleeding Husky purple, openly and unashamedly.
That inclination might be dormant at the moment, as he embeds himself in his current job as the second-year coach of UCLA.
But some things are inherent, and so deeply rooted that they never truly disappear. Which brings us to the sudden vacancy at the University of Washington after Steve Sarkisian’s stunning departure on Monday.
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For Mora, it’s now the moment of truth. He is the perfect man to succeed Sarkisian, in many ways a godsend for UW athletic director Scott Woodward. It’s the job Mora has pined for his whole life – until two years ago, at least.
To paraphrase Bo Schembechler, it would be, in the wake of Sarkisian’s departure for perceived greener pastures, a Washington man coaching Washington.
Sarkisian once dismissed the perpetual rumors of his interest in USC by saying, “People don’t understand it, but this (coaching Washington) is my dream job.”
It turned out to be a temporary infatuation for Sarkisian, who ultimately found the lure of USC irresistible. But with Mora, the love affair with Washington has always been heartfelt, dating to his dad’s years on Don James’ staff, his own stint as a walk-on linebacker on two Huskies Rose Bowl teams, and segueing into the launch of his coaching career as a graduate assistant under James.
I urge Woodward to try to reel in those heartstrings, all the way from L.A. to Montlake. Certainly, there are numerous sound candidates out there for the Huskies, from Justin Wilcox on Sarkisian’s staff, to Chris Petersen at Boise State, to Doug Nussmeier at Alabama.
Gary Pinkel of Missouri has his own strong ties to Washington, including a deep and abiding love for his mentor, James. He’s certainly worth a phone call and perhaps a sales pitch. But it’s hard to imagine the 61-year-old Pinkel leaving a Tigers program he has guided into the SEC title game.
At age 52, Mora would seem riper for a move. He has never hidden his affinity for Washington. It cost him his job with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 when he said on KJR — jokingly, he insists — “If that job’s open, you’ll find me at the friggin’ head of the line with my resume in my hand ready to take that job.”
The maddening thing for Mora has to be that the job has never come open when he is unencumbered. Indeed, the one time he was primed to take it, the Huskies decided to stick with Ty Willingham for one more year. Mora wound up hitching his wagon to the Seahawks, eliminating him from consideration when Willingham was axed.
And now, once again, it is not cut and dry. After two successful seasons with the Bruins, leading them into the Pac-12 title game last year and to nine victories this year, Mora is setting his roots into Southern California. Jack Wang of The Los Angeles Daily News noted Monday that Mora’s wife, Shannon (a former Huskies cheerleader), has been expanding their charity, the Jim Mora Count On Me Family Foundation, in the region, and their son, Cole, plays soccer at nearby Claremont McKenna.
More to the point, anyone who watched the video of Mora’s postgame news conference after the Bruins’ recent win over USC — his second straight triumph over the Trojans, an accomplishment that will endear him to Bruins faithful like nothing else — saw that Mora passion spilling over. And the recipient was the UCLA program.
“It’s an exciting time at UCLA, man,’’ he exuded on the podium. “It’s an exciting time to be a Bruin, man. If you want to play for a fun, tough, hard-nosed football team that can go win games anywhere, come to UCLA, because it’s brewin’ over there.”
That’s what Woodward will have to overcome — Mora’s growing attachment to a program nestled in the recruiting hotbed of the nation, where he is increasingly becoming the major player.
But that heart-on-his-sleeve energy is also the Huskies’ greatest friend as they pursue Mora, who fulfills their wish list on so many levels. His coaching experience is vast, and unlike Sarkisian five years ago, Mora won’t have to undergo a learning curve at the college level.
UCLA not only took care of that, but helped reveal what many had long suspected: That Mora is uniquely wired for the college experience, from recruiting to motivating impressionable young men who respond viscerally to his fire and brimstone.
Mora might well decide the best place to continue to do that is at UCLA, a program on the rise nationally, and sure to open up its resources to keep him.
Or he might listen to his heart, tugging him toward the job he always yearned for.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry