When Jim Mora was out of a job and hobbling around the Seattle area on one good knee, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian would leave the door open, so to speak, for the former UW walk-on.
“You’re always welcome,” Sarkisian would tell Mora.
Mora, fired after going 5-11 as head coach of the Seahawks in 2009, said he never wanted to be a distraction for Sarkisian, but he did spend considerable time around the UW athletic department for about six months in 2011.
“I had gotten fired from the Seahawks, was doing TV work and I tore my knee up skiing up at Crystal (Mountain),” Mora explained in a conference call Tuesday.
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UW athletic director Scott Woodward — “a guy I’m good friends with,” Mora said — offered Mora use of UW’s training facilities for rehab on his knee. “So I started going over there every day — five days a week, three hours a day for about six months.”
At that point, Mora said he hadn’t given much consideration to coaching in college. After finishing his playing career with the Huskies — and appearing in two Rose Bowls — Mora got his first coaching job as a graduate assistant on Don James’ staff in 1984, then spent the next 25 years coaching in the NFL.
Spending time around the UW athletes, he said, gave him a “real hunger” for coaching in college.
“It was a different environment than I’d been around for the past 25 years of my life, and I really enjoyed it. I looked forward to going over there,” he said, adding with a laugh: “I didn’t necessarily look forward to the treatment.”
Mora said he would attend UW practices “every once in a while” during the 2011 season. “Enough to see just the atmosphere; I was never studying plays or studying players or looking at schemes or anything like that. It was more a curiosity of how college football worked.”
UCLA hired Mora as its head coach in December 2011, replacing Rick Neuheisel. The Bruins are 16-7 under Mora, 7-2 this season, and ranked No. 13 heading into Friday night’s matchup against Washington (6-3, 3-3 Pac-12) at the Rose Bowl.
“Jim’s a really good football coach, and as much as he was probably assessing how we do things here, I was picking his brain as well,” Sarkisian said.
Shirley ‘amazing’ for UW
Washington’s game at UCLA on Friday night will be a homecoming of sorts for UW’s Josh Shirley, one of 38 players on the UW roster from Southern California. This, though, will have some added significance for Shirley.
An All-American linebacker at Kaiser High in Fontana, Calif., Shirley signed with UCLA but never played for the Bruins after being dismissed by Neuheisel in the summer of 2010, along with receiver Paul Richardson (now at Colorado) and Shaquille Richardson (Arizona). The three had initially been charged with suspicion of felony theft, but later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“What had happened,” Shirley said Tuesday, “was not in my character. … I’ve moved on.”
“And in that time, and all the way up till today, he’s just been amazing,” Sarkisian said. “He’s been a good student, he’s been great in the community, he’s been a good teammate. I couldn’t ask for more than what he’s brought.”
After sitting out UW’s victory over California with a calf injury, he returned against Colorado and forced a fumble that Marcus Peters recovered and returned 53 yards for a touchdown. Shirley, a part-time starter in 2012, had the best game of his UW career against Illinois in September, when he had three sacks and seven tackles.
• UW linebacker Shaq Thompon said he is “all good” for Friday night after getting a stinger that limited him against Colorado.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @a_jude