Bruins Can Get Tougher If They Take These Tough Steps
UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora, Jr., has channeled his inner Bear Bryant. In an attempt to toughen up his team, the first-year coach has taken his team to a remote, hot climate to start fall practice.
San Bernardino, CA, is not Junction, Texas, by any means. And Mora says he’s not “going in with two buses and coming out with one,” as Bryant famously did to build toughness into his first Texas A&M team. But with this and his stonewall attitude about players “going over the wall,” he is sending a message to counter things he’s heard about UCLA football, that it’s soft.
But he could do more. The Bruins are soft, and they’ve been that way for decades. Here’s five other things that Mora, Jr., could do in order to make the team not just tougher, but look tougher:
1.) Play More Consistently. UCLA always gets up for the big non-conference games – just ask Texas, which has been humbled more than once – then gets crushed by a far lesser opponent the very next week. The first two games of the 2008 season provide the perfect example. The Bruins opened by upsetting heavily-favored Tennessee 27-24 in overtime, then were walloped 59-0 the next week by BYU. In the latter, the Bruins gave up an early touchdown, then gave up entirely. That’s being soft.
Yet just when you think the Bruins are done, they bounce back as if nothing is wrong. They are a team on a trampoline; they fall on their face one week, bounce back the next. They do this throughout the season, from year to year. That is the most maddening thing to Bruin fans and alumni. The first task of Mora, Jr., has to be to get the Bruins to play consistently from week to week.
2.) Improving The Attitude. Let’s go back to 2008 again. After the upset of Tennessee, players immediately started talking about how they were going to win the then-Pac-10. One player even mentioned the National Championship. The National Championship!? Not even the National Champions talk about that after one game!
This is the core of UCLA’s problems – the attitude of the players thinking a single achievement makes them champions. And, as soon as things start to go south, as they did against BYU after UT, instead of rising up to the challenge, the Bruins quit. Or, as they did last year in an ugly episode against Arizona, they act like junior high school kids and start a fight. If this attitude does not change, then neither will the Bruins.
3.) Create a Bruin Walk. The team needs to generate more enthusiasm from the fans. Go to a UCLA game and it’s nothing like the intensity of the SEC. A lot of people go to UCLA games to socialize and don’t bother to even walk into the game until well into the first quarter. “Let’s go into the game now,” Sideline Sam once said to a Bruin alumni, a former starting offensive tackle, by the backstop outside the Rose Bowl well after a game had started. “What for,” he responded. “There’s more single people out here!” Only the die-hards even bother to dress in school colors. In the South, fans wear their school colors down to their underwear.
At some point during the tailgate the Bruin team walks almost unnoticed past the fans and into the stadium. What Mora should do is create a Bruin Walk, a march through the tailgate area – let by the band and cheerleaders – into the Rose Bowl. These team walks are hugely popular and draw enormous crowds in the SEC; it was started at Auburn with the Tiger Walk and now there is the Elephant Stomp (Alabama), Gator Walk (Florida) and Vol Walk (Tennessee). It’s a great way to build fan excitement for the game and the team. And don’t you think that will fire up the players!?
4.) Change The Powder-Blue Uniforms and UCLA Script on the Helmets. UCLA’s uniforms look pretty, not ferocious. Teams don’t get intimidated when they see powder-blue shirts and gold pants topped by a gold helmet with a pretty little script UCLA. They get excited. If the Bruins are to be tougher, they need to look tougher. Use UCLA block letters on the front of the jerseys and change the font style of the numbers to resemble the uniforms of the basketball team. That’s something opponents can respect.
5.) Change Those Curleycue Numbers on the Rose Bowl Field. The minute teams walk on the field for warm-ups, they see curleycue numbers on the 10-, 20-, 30- 40- and 50-yard lines. It’s as if the cheerleaders painted them on their for looks, or a boutique fashion store on Melrose. When you get a visitor on your home turf, you want to intimidate them, like LSU does by putting a live bengal tiger in a cage by the opposing team’s locker room entrance. When the team runs on the field, the cheerleaders stomp on the cage. You don’t get that kind of intimidation with curleycue numbers on the field.