UCLA head football coach Jim Mora had his early defining moment with the Bruins on Thursday, as he took a poorly worded quote dripping with negative recruiting, and turned it into a venomous yet alleged non-directed dig at USC and the school’s safety in comparison with that of UCLA’s.
Mora was a guest on the Roger Lodge Show on Wednesday, and when asked about the recruiting pitch that he gives recruits, the first-year coach in Westwood answered as you would expect. He lauded UCLA’s academic prowess, played up the ability to turn dreams into reality and spoke about the beauty of the campus. Ask any other coach in the nation, across any sport, and that’s your go-to answer when asked about recruiting.
Though, unlike any of those ‘any other coaches’, Mora took his description of the campus a step further, calling UCLA ‘cocoon of safety’, saying, “[at UCLA] we don’t have murders a block from our campus.”
Now, for a guy with a history of sticking his foot in his mouth, perhaps he was just going overboard in his recanting of his recruiting speech. There’s no possible way he’d be serious about presenting recruits with the idea of murder-free living at UCLA, right?
Not only did Mora show the candidness of his negative recruiting tactics, but he essentially alluded to the idea that at other schools, murders are a legitimate danger. Call it semantics, but that’s how it breaks down.
Unfortunately for Mora and everyone listening, that allusion rang too close to home to USC, nearly four months to the day since the senseless murders of two Chinese graduate students, a mile off campus.
So let’s play devil’s advocate and say that somehow Mora didn’t know about the murders. Without the context of the double homicide, Mora’s words are right on par with Lane Kiffin’s famed ‘pumping gas’ comment to Alshon Jeffery, in Kiffin’s Tennessee days. It’s a baseless negative recruiting tactic that falls right into the insensitive category.
Consider that if Mora was willing to publicize his praise for UCLA’s perceived prowess to avoid homicides, there’s no telling what he’d actually be telling recruits in the comfort of their own homes.
Again, that’s if we give Mora the benefit of the doubt that he was unaware of the murders.
Thursday at UCLA’s fall camp in San Bernardino, Mora was asked about the murder remark, and rather than putting out a fire, deflecting, or reading a possibility of a publicist’s nightmare, Mora took what was an already insensitive quote and eliminated all doubt and possibility of the quote being a careless, yet innocent mistake.
“If anybody, whether USC or Cal State San Bernardino, is offended by the statement, then that’s their insecurity, not mine,” Mora told reporters.
Really? Is anyone supposed to believe that Mora would be so crass and pompous about his comments if he didn’t have USC in mind?
Also, Mora was supposed to be sharing his recruiting tactic with Lodge in the interview, and UCLA’s primary recruiting foe is USC, without question. The Bruins aren’t actively recruiting against Auburn, where a June shooting took the lives of former football players.
The only school in the Pac-12 placed in an urban area is again, USC. Stanford and Cal are in affluent areas, while the rest of the conference’s universities reside either in small college towns or large cities with tight-knit college neighborhoods surrounding the university, like Arizona State in Tempe and Washington in Seattle.
There is no possible way that Mora’s remark wasn’t pointed at USC.
And for those deflecting for Mora and saying that either he’s speaking the truth in terms of safety or that USC is being overly sensitive, you’re missing the point.
If you firmly believe that Mora is right about USC being situated in a murderer’s sanctuary, and you’re entitled to your opinion, then you have to be willing to accept the fact that you’re inhumanely using the lives of two innocent grad students for a petty advantage in college football recruiting.
And of course, if you feel as though USC is being overly dramatic and sensitive over the remark, then you have to concede that the idea that a dumb Lane Kiffin comment vaguely referring to motorcycle safety and Nick Ekbatani wouldn’t bother you or be considered insensitive.
The truth is, that if anyone in their right mind makes a comment about Ekbatani, they’re a despicable person. His near-death accident supersedes the rivalry and should be a uniting force between UCLA and USC, in a moment to rally behind a young man as he makes his recovery. The deaths of the two USC grad students are no different.
Deeming the USC family to be oversensitive just reinforces the words of Mora, any way you slice it.
Jim Mora came out after practice late Thursday afternoon to apologize to USC, make it clear that he had never heard of the murders, and acknowledge that he knew how his words could be taken against him. It’s too little too late for Mora, because even if he is the ignorant coach he’s claiming to be in that situation, he’s be proven to be negative recruiter.
And keep in mind, negative recruiting is only half of the issue, because if a school says they don’t negative recruit, they’re lying. (That includes you, Lane.) It’s the fact that Mora was so quick and candid to negative recruit about something so vain and petty as murder, which is at best in poor taste, even if he’s been living under a rock as he says he has.