On Saturday, No. 16 UCLA travels to Texas A&M in a matchup of two coaches -- UCLA’s Jim Mora and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin -- who have been at their respective schools since 2012. Pac-12 reporter Kyle Bonagura and SEC reporter Sam Khan Jr. discuss the coaches ahead of Saturday afternoon’s clash at Kyle Field.
Sam Khan Jr.: Something I found fascinating about these coaches is they have nearly identical records at their schools (Mora is 37-16 with the Bruins; Sumlin is 36-16 with the Aggies) yet the perception of their job security seems quite different. Sumlin is widely considered to be on the hot seat and Mora received a two-year extension over the summer. What was the reaction to that extension, and what's the general feeling about Mora around Westwood?
Kyle Bonagura: The general consensus was the contract extension was warranted and the way it was structured -- adding some bonus money for academic success and top-5 and top-10 finishes without raising his base pay -- was fair. He was previously extended in December of 2013 through the 2019 season, so this latest amendment to the contract, which takes him through the 2021 season, falls in line with what was done previously and portrays the stability that is important during recruiting. UCLA’s 37 wins in Mora’s first four seasons aren’t just the most ever for a UCLA coach in his first four years at the school, but they are the most wins the school has ever had during a four-year period (tied with 1985-1988, when the Bruins played four fewer total games). There are certainly factions of the fan base that aren’t thrilled after last season's 8-5 finish -- the worst of his tenure -- but it would be simplistic to use the record as some kind of signal the program doesn’t remain in good shape. This season's team is deep and balanced, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they win the Pac-12.
For the Pac-12 and UCLA fans who might not keep tabs on Sumlin, please explain why, despite the comparable success over the same amount of time, Sumlin is believed to be on the hot seat. Noel Mazzone did leave Mora’s staff to team up with Sumlin, after all.
Khan: It’s funny, Sumlin’s 36 wins are the second-most for a Texas A&M coach in his first four seasons (only R.C. Slocum had more in his first four, 39 wins from 1989-92), but the belief is his seat is least warm, if not hot, going into the season. A few reasons why I think this has become the narrative:
Nearly $530 million has been poured into facilities improvements over the past four years (including a $485 million renovation of Kyle Field) plus a handsome salary for Sumlin ($5 million) and his assistants (more than $4 million combined). That investment was made with championships in mind, not middle-of-the-SEC West finishes, which is mostly where the Aggies have finished in the past four years.
The 2012 season (11-2 record) heightened the expectations to an unrealistic place. Most outsiders felt the Aggies would struggle in their first few SEC seasons. By blowing those expectations away, it raised the bar for a program that hasn’t historically been a national top-10 program consistently, and does not have a boatload of national titles like Alabama and Oklahoma. I think the excitement of 2012 got some folks thinking that was the new norm in College Station when, in reality, it takes a lot of time to become that type of program.
The comings-and-goings of quarterbacks post-Johnny Manziel had an adverse effect. Since Johnny Football left, the position has been a revolving door, and having two blue-chip quarterback recruits transfer in the same offseason certainly raised eyebrows nationally. Fair or not, I think that story clouded any assessment of Sumlin’s overall performance this offseason.
All that said, if Texas A&M goes 9-3 this season, much of that chatter will diminish and I think Sumlin will be safe. Anything fewer than eight wins probably means that A&M will look to make a change. As for UCLA, since Mora is safe, what are the expectations for the Bruins this season, and how long before fans feel they should be making a real run at a Pac-12 title?
Bonagura: First, I want to circle back to one thing: $530 million! The Pac-12 has had its share of costly renovations -- Cal, Washington and Arizona State among others -- but, still, that’s another level and kind of funny to think about. What ... say, $330 million wouldn’t have gone far enough to accomplish a suitable upgrade? I’m excited to head down there this week to see what, exactly, that kind of money gets you.
And on the topic of extravagant spending, I present this chair at Oregon’s new Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center:
— GoDucks (@GoDucks) August 25, 2016
I wouldn’t mind having a similar chair for my own office, but in what world is this necessary? And don’t say recruiting, because I refuse to believe there will ever be a case when a kid is deciding between Oregon and any other school and something that belongs in Scrooge McDuck’s spaceship is a deciding factor.
Point being: These big-money donors are kidding themselves if they think they're buying their programs wins. Yes, the money helps, but they’re really just buying influence.
Getting back to UCLA, it’s completely reasonable for UCLA fans to expect a run at the Pac-12 title this season. Josh Rosen might be the best quarterback in the country, the defense is loaded at nearly every position, and there are enough young skill guys on offense for Rosen work with. We’ll see if I still agree come Saturday night, but the way their schematic changes have been explained -- going to a more pro-style offense from Mazzone’s spread and relying more heavily on a 4-3 defense -- have me optimistic about both sides of the ball. Plus, they miss Washington and Oregon in Pac-12 play, which gives them a key advantage compared to rival USC.