The best college football coaches are not just that

The great ones are politicians, psychologists and more, and the issues can be tough — as they were this week for UCLA's Jim Mora and Texas' Mack Brown.

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 Jim Mora

UCLA Coach Jim Mora had every right to storm out of Monday's news conference in what has been an emotionally charged week for the Bruins. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / August 31, 2013)

Jim Mora came to UCLA known as a hothead prone to bouts of spontaneous verbal combustion.

An out-of-town colleague put it to me this way: "You know he's crazy, right?"

Mora lived up to the reputation by screaming at assistant coaches and midlevel staffers. He did not always wait to take it behind closed doors.

He has confronted the local media in seemingly petty and petulant ways.

So when Mora stormed out of a news conference Monday after an NBC technician's cellphone conversation disrupted the session, it might have seemed like the same old Jim.

But it wasn't.

The Mora in this straight-to-viral video revealed more a man fully engaged in his occupation as head coach of a big-city football corporation.

Having spent time with the grieving family of a UCLA player who died after being struck by a vehicle over the weekend, Mora was in no mood for extraneous chitchat.

"Shut up," Mora demanded.

Mora had every right to get mad and every right to get up and leave. But he also later called the UCLA beat reporters and told them he'd be available on the field.

This ranks as one of the tougher emotional weeks in UCLA history as the team prepares for Saturday's tough trip to Nebraska.

The Bruins are looking at Mora for direction, and he has increasingly shown the ability to galvanize. The veins popping from his forehead now spell out "U-C-L-A."

Being a good head coach is so, So, SO much more than Xs and O's, a fact lost on many athletic directors who end up losing lots of games and millions of dollars.

USC once hired an offensive "genius" in Paul Hackett who might not have been able to lead bees to honey. Conversely, Bobby Bowden was stupendously successful at Florida State, yet his assistants refused to let him wear headsets on the sidelines.

Many coaches fall between the margins, and it's too early to say where Mora is on the spectrum.

John Robinson knew offense and the running game but was also, in his best years with USC and the Rams, a provocateur of public relations.

Mack Brown is a Robinson type who has somehow survived 15 years in Austin by closing off the Texas recruiting border while running football like the head of a Fortune 500 company. And man, under Brown, has Texas football made a fortune.

Is Brown a great coach? There is no doubt. The 151-44 record spells it out. Yet his resolve is being tested.

Saturday's home game against Mississippi ranks as one of the most important in Brown's tenure. Brown had to put on big-boy pants Sunday and fire defensive coordinator Manny Diaz two games into the season.

Head coaches have to make hard decisions — and when they need to be made.

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