NCAA Football

Did Jim Mora Really Deserve a Contract Extension at UCLA?

June 7, 2016

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It’s officially “extension season” in college football, and Jim Mora is the latest head coach to cash in on this lucrative time of year.

UCLA announced a two-year extension for Mora on Tuesday, meaning his contract will now run through the 2021 season. 

When the news of Mora’s extension broke, Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press summed up Mora’s UCLA tenure to date in a single tweet:

That last bullet point from Mora will stand out above the rest. In his four seasons as the Bruins’ head coach, Mora has been unable to get over the hump and win a Pac-12 Championship. In fact, his only division title came in his first season, when UCLA lost by three points to Stanford in the conference championship game.

Mora’s teams haven’t reached the Pac-12 Championship Game in three straight seasons, and he is coming off a season in which he had his lowest win total—eight games. The Bruins finished the 2015 season with three losses out of their final four games, including a 19-point loss to hated rival USC.  

All that may cause some to raise their eyebrows at Tuesday’s news. Did Mora really deserve an extension right now?

Absolutely.

Mora has built UCLA into a team that will consistently rank in or around the Top 25, and the Bruins have cracked the Top 10 at least once in the last three seasons. According to UCLA’s press release, that hasn’t happened since the 1980s. Mora has also tied a school record for most victories in a four-year span.

UCLA has won eight or more games in each of Mora’s four seasons with the Bruins. UCLA’s previous two head coaches, Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel, combined for only one such season in nine years.

Mora’s hire back in 2011 was widely criticized, but he’s led UCLA to one of the best stretches in school history.

And his impact has been evident in more than just the win totals. UCLA is in a position to keep climbing over the next several seasons thanks to its recruiting surge under Mora:

That turnaround in recruiting has netted 5-stars such as quarterback Josh Rosen, running back Soso Jamabo and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes—all of whom will play key roles in the 2016 campaign. Outside linebacker Mique Juarez and several more blue-chippers will join them on the roster this fall.

In order to compete for championships in today’s college football, a team has to be able to recruit at the highest level. Mora hasn’t had a class that has finished outside of the Top 20 nationally, and this extension should help with momentum in a currently small 2017 class that is headlined by 5-star defensive end Jaelan Phillips.

As Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee wrote Monday in his column on Gus Malzahn’s extension at Auburn, contract moves like these are the “cost of doing business” in power conferences.

“Sure, [Malzahn’s raise] sounds like a lot of money to most people, but all Auburn is doing with Malzahn’s extension is buying a bit of recruiting stability through public relations,” Sallee wrote.

The same goes for UCLA, even though the exact financial details haven’t been released yet. The sour finish to 2015, combined with offseason rumors about Mora returning to the NFL this offseason, per NBC Sports’ John Taylor, may have stalled efforts on the recruiting trail for the Bruins.

Now elite recruits eyeballing UCLA—and there are a lot of them in the talent-rich Southern California area—can see that the school is committed to Mora for the longer haul.

Another key factor to consider is that UCLA shouldn’t be worried about money if the program somehow declines rapidly under Mora.

As Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register noted, UCLA’s new NCAA-record breaking $280 million deal with Under Armour has given the athletic department more financial muscle for the future: 

Extending Mora’s contract around the same time the department is about to come into a massive amount of money is a win-win for UCLA. The football program gets a boost of stability, and a buyout of the now-longer contract would be much easier to swallow.

The 2015 season was frustrating for the Bruins, but it’s worth noting the team had to battle through numerous injuries to star defensive players such as standout linebacker Myles Jack, cornerback Fabian Moreau and Vanderdoes.

UCLA also had to adjust to life with true-freshman quarterback Rosen, who will now be an experienced cornerstone for the next two seasons after the ups and downs of his first campaign. Even with those issues, the Bruins were a couple of one-possession games away from reaching the 10-win mark for the third straight season.

The adversities of 2015 should benefit UCLA’s roster in the seasons to come.

UCLA has the potential to bounce back in a big way in 2016, with Rosen leading a new-look offense that received rave reviews in spring practices and an experienced defense fitting well into a 4-3 scheme.

The 2015 season might just be a bump in the road for Mora, and his extension is a deserved reward for getting UCLA where it needed to be in order to contend for titles in a cutthroat Pac-12.

 

Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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