Mora cleared of UCLA charges just prior to taking over at UConn
News item: The University of Connecticut hired Jim Mora as its new football coach nine days after Mora was dismissed from the final of three student welfare-related lawsuits filed against him at UCLA, one of which was tethered to a former UCLA lineman’s alleged suicide attempt.
The lawsuits against three different defendants were dismissed Sept. 28, 29 and Nov. 2 of this year, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The documents say the overall lawsuits are ongoing but name the Regents of the University of California as the sole remaining defendants with negligence as the sole remaining action.
It raises the questions:
What did UConn know about the lawsuits? And when?
Did the allegations raise any concerns?
Are there safeguards in place at UConn to prevent such behavior here?
Is the timing of Mora’s courtship and hiring — nine days after the third and final dismissal — coincidental, serendipitous or calculated?
UConn spokesperson Pat McKenna said Wednesday the university was aware of the lawsuits and was satisfied once Mora’s name was dropped from them. It is a reasonable answer, given that the issue has no smoking gun and offers plausible deniability.
In May 2019, three former UCLA football players sued the school for injuries they claim to have suffered while playing when Mora was head coach. Each player sought in excess of $15 million in damages for what the Los Angeles Times reported as “the way coaches and trainers allegedly mishandled their injuries.”
The lawsuits, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, named Mora, offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, associate trainer Anthony Venute, the UCLA Regents and the NCAA. They alleged that offensive linemen John Lopez and Poasi Moala suffered traumatic head injuries that lingered and morphed into symptoms linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Zach Bateman, a third former lineman, sued the same defendants over severe injuries to his feet that he claims were exacerbated because of negligent conduct. Bateman’s lawsuit alleged he was “discouraged from seeking medical attention for his injuries and compelled to return to play before receiving treatment or allowing his injuries to heal.”
The Times reported that Lopez’s lawsuit claimed he attempted suicide in the fall of 2016 by overdosing on a combination of over-the-counter and prescription medications. Lopez claimed that his injuries prevented him from finishing school and caused emotional pain, suffering and distress. Citing a “reckless disregard for (Lopez’s) health and safety,” the lawsuit also alleges that the football staff didn’t do enough to protect Lopez before and after he suffered his injuries.
Moala’s lawsuit alleged he suffered multiple concussions as well as other injuries that required two surgeries in 2017. The lawsuit claims that Moala’s injuries might have been avoided “if his coaches had taken his complaints of injury seriously rather than regularly ignoring or minimizing his complaints and ridiculing him in front of his teammates.”
The Times reported that as part of Mora’s “no excuses” culture, “Lopez was subjected to drills that were described as ‘unnecessarily brutal,’ requiring players to practice at full speed with no safeguards against helmet-to-helmet contact. Players were also expected to play through pain, according to the lawsuit.”
Attempts to reach Pamela Tahim Shakur, the attorney representing Bateman, Lopez and Moala, were unsuccessful. A spokesperson for the UCLA Office of Legal Affairs had no comment.
Again: It doesn’t benefit Ms. Shakur or UCLA to comment publicly. But perhaps the lawsuits explain why Mora, who turned 60 on Nov. 19, went jobless for such a while in the prime of his coaching career. He has NFL experience and a winning record at UCLA. Yet he went several years without a job until finally taking one nearly 3,000 miles from his home in Idaho for $1.5 million — a surely decent salary, but the equivalent of lunch money in the profession when compared to others with his resume and experience.
Did Mora go without a coaching job for years because the lawsuits, stemming from highly charged issue of student-athlete welfare, lingered?
It’s possible the lawsuits have no merit. It’s possible they do. But they sure inspire some serious questions about student-athlete welfare. Remember: UCLA remains on the hook for negligence. It’ll be fascinating to understand as this progresses exactly who was negligent and for what.
Mora’s early goodwill tour here has engendered support from fans and the football community. He may turn into a home run hire. But here’s hoping UConn has someone watching its new football coach.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro