At first glance, Jim Mora's resume doesn't quite stack up to some of the other names in the race for Liberty Mutual's Coach of the Year Award.
Art Briles and Nick Saban have better results, for example -- the former has impressively led Baylor from the ranks of the unranked to the doorstep of the BCS, all while replacing cog after cog in his yardage-eating machine. The latter has demonstrated fantastic coaching in his own right, simply by continuing to do what he has been expected to. Win. Maintaining a standard of excellence is arguably difficult as actually creating one in the first place.
By comparison to those two, who head sparkling, lossless programs, Mora's body of work might pale. The Bruins have a pair of blemishes on their 8-2 record, after all -- a 24-10 loss to then No. 13 Stanford and a 42-14 defeat to then No. 3 Oregon. Neither are blemishes worth being ashamed of, but both remain blemishes nonetheless.
Simply having them on the ledger may appear to hurt his case, but it would be foolish to disqualify him entirely based on that. To truly understand Jim Mora's qualifications -- and they are numerous -- for this year's Coach of the Year award, we must look beyond the results of the games themselves.
We must understand his success, his excellence in its proper context.
In his first year at UCLA, Mora began an immediate and impressive turnaround, taking over a decidedly mediocre Bruins team that Rick Neuhiesel left behind and leading it to a Pac-12 South title. Had Ka'imi Fairbairn not missed a game winning kick in the Pac-12 Championship Game -- or had they gained even ten more yards for that kick -- the Bruins might have made a Rose Bowl in the first year of his tenure. That much speaks for itself, in regard to his ability.
What he has accomplished in his second season has only built upon that initial success, and in many ways, been even more impressive, as the Bruins are far better now than they were last season.
Even with the losses to Stanford and Oregon, there have been no real slip-ups in 2013, no unacceptable and unbearable losses like the one to unranked Cal last year. He has kept the Bruins playing well despite an abundance of injuries, youth and general transition -- two true freshmen start on the offensive line and fourteen more on the two-deep, including Hornung Award finalist and two-way star Myles Jack, who was recently pressed into playing running back due to injuries.
Indeed, in a time when they could have easily taken a step back, Mora once again has the Bruins in Pac-12 South contention and in position to remain there for years to come, thanks to that youth. It is true that team remains powered by the twin stars of Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr, but Mora's ability to prepare so many freshmen around them to contribute speaks volumes as well. In the case of Jack specifically, it also demonstrate Mora's tendency to get the most out of his players, which only further underscores of his Coach of the Year worthiness.
In a little over 20 games, he has already done more to end the football monopoly in Los Angeles than his predecessor ever did, and with last year's victory over USC, he has returned the coveted Victory Bell to Pasadena, to boot.
With the level he has the Bruins are playing at, they may not relinquish it for quite some time.
However, the strongest evidence for his candidacy has little to do with football at all, and actually takes place off the field.
Earlier this season, just days before the team was set to leave for a road game against Nebraska, UCLA walk-on Nick Pasquale was struck by a car and killed. Moments like these can often fracture teams or derail seasons, but Mora has managed to use this unimaginable tragedy to rally the program, continuing to honor Pasquale's memory all season long in a classy, tasteful manner.
In a moment that ranks about as memorable as any this year, the Bruins opened their first home game after his death with only ten men on offense, using the extra spot to signify Pasquale's absence, and while Mora is not an avid user of social media, a look up and down his account (@UCLACoachMora) will show his continued dedication and passion to this cause.
The energy in this place will be off the charts, bring all you got. Go Nuts 4 Nick! pic.twitter.com/1ohIIEKWs7— Jim Mora (@UCLACoachMora) September 20, 2013
In short, how Mora has handled himself and his team in the wake of Pasquale's death fully encapsulates the Coach of the Year Award's criteria of sportsmanship, integrity and responsibility, while maintaining the same excellence he has led the Bruins to on the field.
A vote for him here is a vote to give the award to its most deserving candidate. Do so here -- should Mora win, he would also have another $50,000 to donate between the Nick Pasquale Foundation and his own Count on Me Family Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting community awareness and empowering other children's organizations.