UConn’s new football coach Jim Mora takes on the challenge of the resuscitation program


EAST HARTFORD – Jim Mora introduced UConn athletic director David Benedict to one of his favorite pastimes during the five days they spent together in Idaho earlier this month: butchering.

“He puts moleskin on the bottom of the skis and he climbs these 10,000-foot mountains in the dark,” Benedict said. “Then he turns on one of those headlamps and runs down the ski slope in the dark.

“I think he’s crazy.”

Mora loves the challenge he offers.

“Whether it’s hiking, climbing, skinning, snowshoeing, mountain biking, whatever it is, I love going up slopes,” Mora said. “I like difficult things. Difficult things motivate me.

That’s why 60-year-old Mora is taking on the challenge of resurrecting one of the country’s saddest college football programs.

Mora, UConn’s new coach, was officially introduced at Rentschler Field on Saturday ahead of the Huskies’ game against No.19 Houston.

“I don’t see one challenge as greater than another,” Mora said. “Hard things are hard, and I like hard things.”

Mora, the former NFL and UCLA coach, has been busy since taking the job, connect with high school coaches and rookies, boosters, and especially current players and assistants. On Wednesday he attended the Hand-Guilford game in Madison and on Thanksgiving he attended NFA-New London, the country’s longest-running high school rivalry. He also attended UConn basketball games.

“What’s important is that we just create a mindset in this football team, a culture in this program that leads to success,” said Mora. “The process to get there is going to be tough, it’s going to be tough. But like I said, I relish tough things. I embrace the hard things, the hard things that make me feel full.

Mora inherits a program that needs a massive makeover. The Huskies have gone 1-11 this season and haven’t posted a winning record since making the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 under Randy Edsall.

UConn Chairman of the Board Dan Toscano stressed the importance of finding someone to provide leadership, direction and passion. Benedict said he had “hours and hours” of conversations looking for the right person.

“We were fortunate to have a lot of time,” said Benedict, “which allowed us to handle research in a very different way. Not that there were a lot of good things that came out of COVID, but one of them is the fact that we are much more comfortable with virtual technology. Our ability to meet people virtually was a significant improvement during the research process, and it was different from everything I have ever been involved in.

“The number of conversations we had virtually was significant. … We talked to assistant coaches, coordinators, former head coaches, former NFL head coaches, current coaches. We were really able to look far.

Mora has spent the last few weeks evaluating the program from top to bottom and has spoken to some players individually.

“I have tried to be as discreet as possible out of respect for the current staff and the players,” he said. “I went to training, I watched the film, I attended the games. One of the things that helped was getting onto the pitch in the second half. I think it gives me a chance to feel the energy of the team, to sort of see which players are still emotionally invested in the game or who is checking out. There haven’t been a lot of guys I’ve seen checking out.

Mora will face significant staff turnover. Junior defensive tackle Travis Jones is set to enter the NFL draft. Junior cornerback Jeremy Lucien, another multi-year incumbent, intends to transfer. There is also a lot of heavy work to be done on the recruiting trail.

Mora plans to be active, but smart in the transfer portal. He has already offered some JUCO perspectives.

“I would compare that to my years in the NFL where you built throughout the draft and completed through free agency,” Mora said. “In college, you build through recruitment and complete through the transfer portal. I certainly think that has value as long as you do a really good job of controlling players, not only from a skill point of view, but also from a personality point of view.

“We don’t want to become a team of mercenaries. You are trying to build, develop, maintain a culture. It’s a little easier to do that when you recruit players that you get to know over the years and their families over the years rather than just a weekend with some type of transfer.

He will meet the team collectively on Sunday morning.

“Some (players) have asked me tough questions,” he said. “What is my future here? What are we going to do? Who will be the coaches? ‘ As honest as I can be with them, I am, but there are some things that I am not yet able to talk to them about. These conversations will come.

[email protected]; @DougHello

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