My View From Team Meetings: UCLA Football is On Its Way…
Visions of various scenarios featuring exotic animals hunting their helpless prey flashed across the screen. Cheetahs chasing down gazelles; a pack of wolves tore down a mighty buffalo. These images were juxtaposed with that of highlights of UCLA football; a generous reel of highlights that had been compiled in just the first third of the season.
I found the symbolism and imagery compelling.
I had seen many of these videos of animals hunting their prey…after all, it wasn’t the first time a football coach utilized this imagery in his repertoire of motivational propaganda. But this time it was different. It wasn’t a coach showing a video of an animal displaying its killer instinct in real life, and hoping the players could learn something from our primal counterparts. Instead, here was coach Jim L. Mora Jr. comparing the similiarities between a cheetah viscously ripping the jugular from a gazelle – to that of the UCLA Football team doing just the same. The only difference was was the lack of blood and gore. However, if it weren’t for all the Football pads, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pack of 11 players dancing around the bloody remnants of their prey. Like a pack of wolves, they work together for the kill, and relish in feasting that results of the synergistic, collective effort.
This isn’t your normal UCLA football team. The powder blue, “gutsy little Bruins” that are simply happy to be participating; Relishing in moral victories; finding silver lining in anything and everything, no matter how devastating the defeat.
This Football team has adopted the uncensored, “no holds barred” attitude of their new Head Coach and leader. Coach Mora is about as abrasive as they come. Things like “hurt feelings” and the negative stigma behind using “curse words” don’t occur to him while in the process of what he is trying to accomplish. He is on a mission; the train is rolling down the tracks, and if you aren’t on board, you better get the hell out of the way.
This is a man who is so motivated that he naturally motivates any and all who are listening. A man so fired up, he can barely finish a sentence without including some form of vulgarity.
The media often scrutinizes him for how brief he tends to be when it comes to answering their questions…Consider it a courtesy: if you’ve never played this game – you obviously don’t speak its language. His briefness is likely out of consideration for those members of the media who simply wouldn’t be able to handle the harsh reality of his nature.
What exactly does that mean? The “harsh reality of his nature”. How do you define…that?
You can’t. You simply sit in a team meeting that he is leading…like I was privileged with the chance to. 70 young men dialed to every word coming out of his mouth; 70 resting heart rates elevated to levels that would likely cause every vein vessel, and capillary to burst if you weren’t ready for it; 70 individuals amalgamating to form a single collective unit – ready to pounce on their prey.
However, this harsh reality comprises only a fraction of his nature. Mora has somehow found the perfect balance between the “Disciplinarian Hard Ass Head Coach” and the notorious “Players Head Coach”. Not only can he draw the line in the sand and and command every man in the room’s attention by simply clearing his throat…but he also has this innate ability to connect with the players. The players don’t do what he says out of fear; rather out of respect and love. You can tell this team really loves their head coach – and I can fully understand why! I have loved and remain loyal to every head coach I have played for…but I will tell you this: I would give up my right leg if it meant I could play for Jim Mora Jr…I love the guy! (I realize that makes zero sense, considering I wouldn’t have any legs left to feasibly play, but for the dramatic effect…lets just roll with it)
Rick Neuheisel laid the foundation for the success UCLA will enjoy in years to come. He convinced this talented group of young football players to come to UCLA, in a time and phase were most of the country has forgotten that Los Angeles has another collegiate football team within its city limits. He brought about an awareness within the administration that it is no longer 1989, Troy Aikman has graduated, and that the times have changed; the game has evolved universally; thus, UCLA must follow suit. He brought together the various alumni and donors to help revitalize this program…after all, UCLA is a public university, vulnerable to the behest of the state and all the pitfalls that are involved with not being a private university. It is tough to spend the money required to succeed when its not there. When the school itself is forced to continuously raise tuition rates due to relentless budget cuts, you are forced to depend on the generosity of our alumni and donors. Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money, and Rick Neuheisel should be applauded for not only being a phenomenal Bruin, but for accomplishing the behind the scene tasks that often go overlooked and unappreciated when you aren’t winning football games.
All things in life happen for a reason, and the addition of Jim Mora Jr. to the Bruin family is concrete evidence of the old adage. He has begun to build upon the solid foundation created by the Neuheisel regime…
…what exactly does that entail? In its most obvious light, he has taken a talented group of individuals, brought them together as a collective, and infected each and every player with his no bullshit attitude. He has assembled an all-star cast of coaches that are finally fitting square pegs in their respective square holes; formulating a system that works for the personnel available – and not the other way around. He has re-instilled the killer instinct within each UCLA player that has been missing for far too long.
As I watched the various clips, the contrast between each respective image shown on the massive screen began to fade away. There was no longer a difference between the animals killing their prey and the football team tackling theirs: they were all the same.
The final image on the screen was that of a Buffalo being brutally preyed upon by a pack wolves - an image I found fitting considering UCLA’s opponent that day – The Colorado Buffalos.
Fear the pack…fear the Bruins! Because I guarantee you, like their head coach, they don’t fear anything.
(Disclaimer: No animals were harmed during the conception of this article. Despite the figurative speaking, Ralphie The Buffalo was completely unharmed.)