LOS ANGELES — Veteran NFL coach Jim Mora was hired as UCLA's coach Saturday, replacing Rick Neuheisel and becoming the first football coach of the Bruins in more than 60 years with no ties to the school.
Mora was the coach of the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, going 31-33 over four seasons. The son of longtime NFL coach Jim Mora is a former University of Washington defensive back who had only one season of college coaching experience at his alma mater in 1984 before beginning a 25-year career in the NFL.
Mora will be introduced at a news conference next week.
Neuheisel, who went 21-29 over four seasons at his alma mater. He was fired last month after UCLA was embarrassed 50-0 by No. 5 Southern California. The Trojans' postseason ban still allowed the Bruins to play in the first Pac-12 championship game, where UCLA lost 49-31 to Oregon last week.
UCLA will play Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31 under interim coach Mike Johnson, Neuheisel's offensive coordinator. Johnson also was Mora's quarterbacks coach for two seasons with the Falcons.
Mora spent the past two years out of coaching, working as a television analyst after the Seahawks fired him in January 2010 and replaced him with former USC coach Pete Carroll after just one season.
The 50-year-old Mora was born in Los Angeles and spent part of his childhood in the area, but has no links UCLA. Athletic director Dan Guerrero said that wasn't a prerequisite for the job.
The Bruins probably could use a fresh start: They haven't played in a Rose Bowl in 13 seasons and haven't been ranked for more than five seasons, both school-record streaks, while rarely threatening to emerge from powerhouse USC's shadow across town.
Guerrero and Mora must drum up interest in a program with an attendance decline of 25 percent during Neuheisel's four seasons — right when the Bruins are trying to sell upgraded seats for higher prices at the renovated Rose Bowl. Relatively flush with cash from the Pac-12's lucrative new television contract, Guerrero has promised to upgrade the Bruins' training complex, including 80-yard Spaulding Field.
Mora emerged as the leader in UCLA's coaching search late this week after the school considered Boise State's Chris Petersen, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Miami's Al Golden, who all apparently showed little interest in the Bruins. Guerrero claimed he had the funds to hire an elite coach — and while Mora has a strong coaching pedigree, he wasn't known to be a prime target for any other schools.
But Mora has long shown an interest in college coaching, notoriously telling a Seattle radio station he was interested in someday coaching the Huskies — while he was employed by the Falcons, earning widespread criticism. Mora's youthful demeanor and enthusiasm even impressed his NFL players, who often compared him to a college coach, but Mora also was known for aggressive practices and discipline.
UCLA probably is hoping Los Angeles football fans will notice other parallels between Mora's selection and the Trojans' famed hiring of Carroll, who had been out of college coaching for 18 years when USC hired the 49-year-old coach 11 years ago next week. Carroll led USC to seven conference titles and two national championships, leaving the school a few months before the NCAA leveled the program with heavy sanctions.
Mora had some of his greatest success as Steve Mariucci's defensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers from 1999-2003. He's the first UCLA coach with a defensive background in at least 40 years, in a lineage including offensive masterminds Dick Vermeil, Terry Donahue and Bob Toledo.
UCLA never finished better than 7-6 under Neuheisel, who sometimes lamented the school's focus on basketball while failing to achieve his goal of getting the Bruins' toughest fans excited about the program.
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Neuheisel struggled to recruit elite talent at several positions — notably quarterback, where Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have been inconsistent at best for three consecutive seasons. Neuheisel also made a costly decision to use an unorthodox pistol offense for the past two years, even parting ways with veteran offensive coordinator Norm Chow after the Bruins went 4-8 last season.
UCLA largely alternated narrow victories and blowout losses this season, capped by the Trojans' demolition of their crosstown rivals. The Bruins also lost 48-12 to lowly Arizona after a bye week along with a 26-point loss at Stanford, a 29-point home blowout by Texas and a 25-point loss at Utah.