Mora ready to embrace challenge of reviving UConn football program
East Hartford — Jim Mora will meet with the UConn football team for the first time as head coach at 9 a.m. Sunday.
He's fired up and ready to blastoff.
His long list of things to do stretches from Stamford to Storrs.
"I can't wait to talk to those players," Mora said Saturday morning after his official introductory press conference before UConn's 45-17 season-ending loss to No. 19 Houston at Rentschler Field. "And then we'll have a chance to announce our staff. And then we're going to get on the road and we're going to recruit like crazy.
"I look forward to getting to know our current players better and assimilating our staff into our community. So, I don't think there's anything I don't look forward to. You talk about being juiced up and rejuvenated and passionate, I can't remember ever feeling this way in my life in a professional sense. It's just been amazing."
That says a lot when considering Mora's impressive resume includes 31 years of coaching experience at the NFL and college levels.
Mora will need a plentiful supply of energy, enthusiasm, passion, patience and coaching skill to turn around a program that's suffered through 10 straight losing seasons, including 1-11 this fall.
Since the announcement of his hiring on Nov. 11, Mora has been busy. He's served as an assistant coach while primarily focusing on recruiting and evaluating the program. He plans to rebuild through recruiting and will supplement the roster through the transfer portal.
Mora has tried to be as inconspicuous as possible out of respect for the current staff and players. He's gone down the field in the second half of games to get a feel for the energy and gauge whether players are still emotionally invested. He's spent time in the dining hall with players.
"I look at this team and these players and I see young men that really still care," Mora said. "They haven't thrown in the towel. I see a lot of character and I see some talent that can be developed. I think what's important is that we just create a mindset on this football team and culture in this program that leads to success."
Another focus of Mora's is getting out in the community and beyond.
He's attended UConn sporting events and band rehearsal, visited with Gov. Ned Lamont and watched two high school games, including the Thanksgiving Day battle between Norwich Free Academy and New London.
He thoroughly enjoyed his first NFA-New London game.
"First of all, it was an amazing, beautiful drive down and being right by the water," said Mora, who's living near the UConn campus. "I'm standing there on the sideline and I'm going 'this is frickin awesome.' I'm at a high school game in Connecticut, which is the oldest rivalry game in our country, on Thanksgiving day. That was really cool."
He's also prioritized developing relationships with the state's high school football community, as well as keeping the best talent in-state.
Eighteen players on this season's roster are from Connecticut.
"This is the state school," Mora said. "We're going to build something special. The players that fit our profile and have the ability, this is where they should dream of coming. When they're little kids, they should be passionate about potentially playing at UConn. They should be running around in the streets with UConn jerseys."
With that in mind, Mora has reached out to high school coaches across the state. He's invited them to attend clinics, visit practice, sit in on staff and player meetings.
"I think I have a lot to learn from them, not only about our state and high school and prep football in our state but also about football," Mora said. "I found there are great coaches at all levels. I think there's pearls of wisdom to be found everywhere. So, it's critically important that we engage the high school football coaches in Connecticut and involve them and make them feel welcome so that when they have a good football player, they feel safe and comfortable sending them to UConn."
This obviously won't be a quick fix.
UConn is one of the worst Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Huskies have won just four games while losing 32 in the last three seasons.
Mora embraces the challenge. He's coached a college program before, running the show at UCLA. In his six years, he went 46-30 overall and led the Bruins to the 2012 Pac-12 South championship and two bowl victories.
"Whether it's hiking, climbing, skinning or mountain biking, whatever it may be, I like to go uphill," Mora said. "I like things that are hard. Hard things motivate me. This is just another chance to continue to walk up a hill. I love that opportunity."
So what will success look like for Mora at UConn?
"Success takes on many forms," he said. "Certainly on the field, that means a competitive, respected football team on a national level. It also means that our student-athletes graduate and in graduating get an education and develop other passions and other paths to success off the football field.
"In terms of a timeline, I'm not going to tie us down to a timeline. I'm going to say every single day we're going to take another step towards being better."