Mora To End ’Ditch Day’ At UCLA’s Football Practice
“I can tell you in no uncertain terms that that tradition will not be part of tradition going forward,” Mora said when he stopped by practice for about 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon. “My general feeling is that if they want to skip out on practice and jump over a wall, then they might as well keep going because they are not a part of what I want to be a part of.”
UCLA’s seniors organized what amounted to a ditch day Tuesday, running off the practice field and hopping the wall that surrounds the facility just after the team had completed pre-practice stretching. It is a decades-old tradition for the Bruins, but one that didn’t go over well with some players and definitely didn’t go over well with Mora, who will not begin coaching the team until after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31.
“I’ve never heard of anything like it in college football and I don’t ever want to hear about it again here,” Mora said. “I’ve never been around anything like that and nor will I ever be around anything like that.”
Mora has spent most of his career in the NFL, and gave a rant similar to his father’s famous rant about the playoffs when asked if he ever saw anything like that in the pros.
“Pros? Are you kidding me? Happen in the pros?” Mora said. “If something like that happened in the pros, those guys would be on the streets in a heartbeat or there would be $25,000 taken out of their paycheck. Absolutely not.”
Mora said he would address the tradition during his first meeting with the team when they reconvene after winter break. The tradition not only sends the wrong message about discipline, accountability and responsibility, Mora said, but also disrespected the efforts of athletic director Dan Guerrero to get the Bruins into a bowl game. UCLA had to ask the NCAA for a waiver to play in a bowl game because they finished with a losing record.
“Dan Guerrero gave these kids an opportunity to compete one last time for UCLA and it really bothers me personally, knowing Dan how I do, that they disrespected that gesture that he presented them in going to this bowl game,” Mora said. “It’s a great thing for these kids to go and play one last time for UCLA. These seniors who are going out and these coaches who may or may not be here come together one last time to compete and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. No matter what the record is or whether it’s the national championship game or not.”
The stunt of skipping practice did not sit too well with all of the players. Quarterback Kevin Prince and safety Dalton Hilliard were among those most visibly upset and Prince said they were trying to move past it, but still felt slighted by the senior class.
“A lot of the guys unfortunately are OK with it,” Prince said. “It’s in the past and we’re just going to forget about it for now and in the future make sure it doesn’t happen anymore. We did a good job in the spring, there was talk of it and we made it not happen. I didn’t think we’d have to deal with this again, but moving forward in the future we’ll make sure it doesn’t come up again.”
Senior receiver Taylor Embree, among those who instigated the ditch day, defended the action by citing school tradition.
“Every year that I’ve been here and we’ve done it, we’ve been criticized for it,” Embree said. “At the same time the tradition started years ago and they were winning Rose Bowls while they were doing it. We did it the year we won the Eagle Bank Bowl, too. I think at this point where our program is at, we’re going to get criticized for everything we do.”
Mora, not surprisingly, tended to side with the players who were upset.
“They should all be pissed off about it,” Mora said. “The kind of players that are going to fill this roster from now on are guys that would be pissed off about it, that wouldn’t let it happen, that would put a stop to it before it could happen. Those are the kind of guys we want at UCLA.”
And, he reiterated, the tradition was going to end.
“I hope they had fun going over the wall or whatever you call it because it’s the last time they are going over the wall,” he said. “It might happen again, but you won’t see those guys out on the field the next day.”