Jim Mora the target of unjustified anger

Nov 25, 2000 at 12:00 AM


When the San Francisco 49er win loss record plummeted to (2-7) after their second loss to World Super Bowl Champions The St. Louis Rams, Defensive Coordinator Jim Mora came under intense fire from media and fan based speculation that he should step down as coordinator.

I want to go on record as to acknowledge that Jim Mora has done an outstanding job with the hand he has been dealt with this season. We cannot condone sloppy and unproductive play and we cannot justify a defense that is at the very cellar of The National Football League.

But we can comprehend and understand the very facts speak for themselves, salary cap, the training and development of young rookies and second-year players, and the itchy rash of injuries that has been worse than a bubonic plague in the ranks of this defense causing constant shuffling and changes of assignments and adjustments.

“He’s got his work cut out for him,” Mariucci said, pointing out that Mora’s time isn’t consumed by developing the young defensive backs, to the detriment of other areas of concern.

“We’re trying to groom several rookie defensive linemen (John Engelberger, John Milem, Cedric Killings) also, some young linebackers (Julian Peterson, Jeff Posey, Artie Ulmer and Jeff Ulbrich) to the point where we can surprise people once in awhile and stop the run and hit the quarterback on occasion, while keeping it simple enough assignment wise. He’s had new players at different positions most of the time.”

Looking for a scapegoat to take the heat seems to be Jim Mora and his defensive units and his ability to turn the tide from losing to winning; the offense remains intact and productive.

It is the defense in all senses that has cost us games by yielding tremendous point differentials that our offense has not the time on the field or the capability to do from so very far behind.

The San Francisco 49er’s can have the best offense in the league but they will not go far without some kind of stable and reliable defense that allow them to get on the field with regularity.

In all respect, Mora’s coaching and game-planning abilities cannot be accurately judged given the level of inexperience and injury. During games you can see him actively tutoring his young players, particularly his defensive backs, and calling their attention to particular formations or tendencies.

If anyone was more intense and excited to be on the sidelines coaching a game as of equal to Head Coach Steve Mariucci, it is defensive coordinator Jim Mora. He has without a doubt done a laborer’s work with an ever-changing group of athletes that keeps changing every week due to constant injuries and rehab.

“Yeah, he’s pretty much on us during a game,” rookie cornerback Ahmed Plummer said. “But I like that.”

Said safety Lance Schulters: “He cares so much, and it’s not his fault we’re making the mistakes that we are. We are so close to turning this thing around. I really want to win for him.”

Jim Mora is a lot of things but he certainly cannot be a miracle worker, he simply has to be a sound and consistent defensive coordinator and a most caring one at that.

If he could be both in one man that would truly be a miracle, however we must realize all the mechanics that are in a defensive unit and all the long hard hours that go into a game-planning week with reserve defensive backs. And defensive line changes in and out of a game due to players playing banged up hurt or plain aren’t productive enough due to a number of reasons.

The 49er’s, as an organization has not lost faith in Jim Mora in fact they continue to rally around him and congratulate him for all his hard work and endeavors to put this defense back on the map in this league.

“With such a young group, and I’m not trying to use that as an excuse, he’s doing a great job,” 49er’s linebacker Jeff Posey said. “He’s got to play with the cards he’s been dealt .”

Every week is like a circus week for Mora as player after player goes down with injury all in one time down goes Safety John Keith. Down go Linebacker Julian Peterson, Winfred Tubbs, Defensive Tackle Junior Bryant, Bryant Young, Cornerback Ahmed Plummer and so on.

Mora is at a point where he has weighed several times as how does he cope with such adversity and stay in a positive manner? “By laughing it off,” said Mora. “The other option is to have just a complete and total breakdown, which I’m not going to do.”

Jim Mora is in his fourth year with the 49er’s, and second as defensive coordinator. Mora spent the previous two years, as the 49er’s defensive back coach. Thirteen years prior he split time between two teams, The San Diego Chargers (1985-91) and The New Orleans Saints (1992-96).

Mora has spent the last 15 years in the coaching ranks, following in the footsteps of his father, Indianapolis Head Coach Jim Mora. Throughout those years, the younger Mora has learned not to become discouraged.

Mora came into the coordinator position when John Marshall then defensive coordinator left to accompany George Seifert in coaching The Carolina Panthers where he is today.

49er Head Coach Steve Mariucci continues to have complete admiration and confidence in Mora and is more than willing to stand up to the negative publicity surrounding our defense.

“What’s good now is he’s not showing signs of frustrations. Every week he comes in with nothing but words of encouragement,” 49er’s free safety Pierson Prioleau said. “He allows us to see signs of improvement, and at the same time, he comes down hard on us every single game.”

“Sometimes his words make me want to reach out and grab him,” Prioleau said, “but he’s only doing his job.”

Many fans reached such a boiling point over the frustrating plays made by the defense or the plays that just were not made at all they berated Mora from the stands itself inside the stadium.

“Hey Mora, you (stink),” shouted one fan from the stands behind the 49er bench.

Such comments can cut open the heart of a coach struggling to find the answers and devise new ways to improve every play; Mora is weathering the storm well among so many upset and frustrated fans with little patience to think of.

“We’ve gotten our (butts) ripped on radio,” Mora said. “We’re weathering the storm a little bit.”

Since becoming defensive coordinator in 1999, Mora has not had the same success or the talent pool, as in his previous two seasons as defensive back coach. Now not only is he grooming inexperienced defensive backs, but he also has to make personnel decisions among the few healthy defensive players he does have.

Certainly Mora is a passionate and caring coach as defined by the players he has and their testaments concerning his compassion and competitive nature for the game. Mora is a man that will be that much better when he receives new talent to work with and to mold into serious weapons against a potent offense.

Not saying he does not possess those weapons now because he has some, however rookies need to transform into hardened and talented athletes almost over night, at least that’s what is expected in the NFL today. There is no mercy for the weak and only the strong teams survive.

I have witnessed so many times as the camera is reflected on Mora on the sideline his facial expressions and grimace’s as he reads and analyzes plays. His reactions to failures and success and all say a lot about a coach that has true meaning and understanding he has both of those.

“He’s trying to turn the whole 49er’s defense around with a lot of young players and a few vets,” said Peterson, the 49er’s top draft pick who has missed three games himself because of a sprained knee. “That’s a lot of pressure to have on one man.”

“He’s had new players in different positions most of the time. So he’s got a lot on his plate to try to get accomplished,” Coach Steve Mariucci added. “We’ve faced a lot of good offenses and a lot of good Pro Bowl-type quarterbacks and some pretty darn good running backs. He’s got his work cut out for him.”

So much finger-pointing so much lashing and public humiliation the 49er’s have had to endure from people who are not accustomed to the 49er’s being out of the norm, as all their lives they have only known or experienced winning as a concept.

Reality has gripped this franchise right around the throat and nothing we say and do is going to change that, Fans everywhere if you are honestly real fans will come to realize the seriousness of our plight and what the salary cap has meant to us.

During every game that is going on as defenders are retreating back to the sidelines and the bench, Mora is kneeling in front of them, lecturing them, and pleading to them.

“You’ve got to coach them during the game, alert them to what’s coming up. It’s just important that they feel they can depend on you during the game because they are young,” Mora said. “You just try different things, push-them, squeeze-them and all that.”

And first and foremost do not forget to help them heal, as these athletes need coaches understanding as well as his criticism on every occasion.

I know as a fan and as a writer how difficult it is to see the positives on this side of the ball, and that is so easy to lay blame and point the finger at one individual for all the 49er deficiencies on and off the field.

“Nobody works harder at it,” Mariucci said. “Nobody knows it better than Jim Mora does. He’s a bright, terrific, young, up and coming coach with a great, great future. When he gets this thing tied together, we’re going to have a fantastic defense. And then he’ll get the credit he deserves.”

However that will not be at least for another year, as the rookie defensive starters we have now have gained valuable experience this year. And they will apply that skill and learning on the field next year in a year that is filled with much higher expectations in our phases of rebuilding.

Jim Mora of all people knows that excuses are far and many in between and those are not accomplish the inevitable tasks he has at hand, he must ascertain the very structure of this defense dissect it and study it like he has so many times. And find the talent and the winning formula that will make this defensive unit click.

The critics and football experts will continue to take pop-shots at Mora and hold up the 49er defense as the reason this team went nowhere in 1999-2000, however they fail to notice the everyday improvement and the real chemistry that is starting to build with renewed talent.

Mora says he has had a difficult time building chemistry-with the youth, inexperience and injuries. But says he really likes the individual progress being made by his young players, especially Jason Webster and Julian Peterson, who is “making huge strides.”

The defense has lost consistency in larger reason to the fact that the starting lineup has changed almost every week; the same players have not been lining up next to each other week after week.

Even with all the drills and all the practices week after week it is almost like going back to school for many players, as they being rookies must adapt to the professional football arena of play where everything is put on high speed and you are expected to keep up.

“There hasn’t been the same lineup two weeks in a row,” Mora said. “It only happens with time. While it’s so hard and so frustrating, and believe me it tears you up. It’s in the process; you can’t force the process. It’s like going to kindergarten and then too first grade and to second grade. You learn by going to class. We have class every Sunday.”

There is always the questions and what ifs? In one question put to Mora what could you have, should you have done for this team to be better this year?

“I don’t know what you could do. We knew we were coming in with a new group. We committed to playing nine rookies, getting them better. The only thing you could have done was in the past. Maybe handled it better, money-wise where you could have acquired a veteran free agent to supplement the team. You can put a rookie or two, or a new guy or two in keep moving along. Right now, we’re on the right course. Bill Walsh, Terry Donahue and Steve Mariucci have this on the right course. We’re doing just fine, it’s the process that’s excruciating.”

“As frustrating as it is, we’re doing something that’s unprecedented,” Mora said. “We have 14 first-and second-year players on our defense. You can plug in a guy here and there and keep going, but when you’ve got nine rookies and five second-year guys, there are going to be growing pains. There are ups and downs.”

In all I have seen this defense grow and strengthen over the season, rookie athletes are starting to come into their own as real contributors on every down, Injuries are just starting to heal and starting linemen out for extended periods of time are just starting to come back in.

Season-Ending Injuries to DT Junior Bryant and Safety John Keith have impaired this team in many ways, however others have stepped up and even practice squad members have been elevated and made impressive contributions.

Defensive Tackle Brentson Buckner has really made a huge positive influence in the front four this season; he has been the mainstay beside Bryant Young. And has been a steady run-stuffing specialist and is now becoming a force to contend with in rushing the passer as seen in the Kansas City match-up.

At Linebacker Julian Peterson is probably the best out of the rookie class with his speed and agility to move around in the middle of the field at will, and make big devastating hits on running backs, tight ends and harass the quarterback.

Jeff Posey has also come into his own, and is worth a look at retaining for the long haul, Winfred Tubbs in and out with hamstring problems and Ken Norton with back problems have struggled all season to stay relatively productive.

At Ends Anthony Pleasant and Chike Okeafor have not been what we have hoped for, their ability to provide a viable pass rush has been very limited, we need to evaluate as to what needs to be done to correct their performance.

Rookie John Engelberger has been the End to behold as his motor is non-stop, he has provided the quarterback pressure we have desired since the days of Chris Doleman.

I can only see Engelberger becoming even better with time and experience, and that may not be that far away, next year should be a big year for him.

At Safety we are solid Lance Schulters, Zack Bronson, John Keith (injured) and Pierson Prioleau are athletes that have really come on strong, Prioleau is the only weak link.

At Corner Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster both rookies are exceptional and show great promise, We have a future here competition should still be brought in as Monty Montgomery and Anthony Parker need some heat.

Following the San Francisco victory in Week Eleven over The Kansas City Chiefs at 3-Com, Jim Mora was being surrounded by a group of reporters, so his young linebacker climbed up a couple of stairs to be seen and heard. “Good job, coach,” shouted Julian Peterson, “Good job.”

The defense takes credit for a fantastic effort against the Chief offense, providing our offense time of possession on the field, harassing Elvis Grbac all day and breaking his rhythm and making tremendous hits on receivers to knock out a dangerous passing game that Kansas City is becoming renown for.

Jim Mora had this team ready to play some serious defense, or should I say he always strives to have this team ready to play defense. He is a professional at all times and looks at his players as they were his pupils in a classroom, eager to breath knowledge into them.

The 49er’s (3-8) came into Sunday’s match-up with the league’s worst ranked defense, especially poor against the pass. And the Chiefs came in with the league’s sixth-ranked offense, especially dangerous with the pass.

Quarterback Elvis Grbac was fresh off a 500-yard performance against the Raiders. But the 49er’s threw everything out the window and pieced together their most dominant defensive effort of the year, holding the Chiefs scoreless for 53 minutes and putting the brakes on a five-game losing streak.

The biggest key for the 49er’s injury-ravaged defense was the healthy return of two starters: Peterson and Bronson. Peterson brought plenty of pressure, once forcing Grbac to run head-on into a Bryant Young sack. He also helped cover the NFL’s most dangerous tight end, Tony Gonzalez, who was held to 46 yards receiving.

Bryant Young had two sacks as the 49er’s kept constant pressure on Grbac. Brentson Buckner added another. And Zack Bronson returned from six weeks off with a key interception.

The San Francisco 49er’s had many things on their minds this day one and foremost their avenging the performance from a week earlier that head coach Steve Mariucci referred to as “rock bottom.” The New Orleans Saints ran up a 31-0 lead on the 49er’s and showed so little respect for the 49er’s defense that they went for it on fourth down three times in the first half.

“Jim’s been under a microscope all year, but I’ve been telling you, it’s not him,” safety Lance Schulters said. “Whether we miss an assignment or blow it somehow. The schemes are there, we just haven’t executed. Today, we executed. Today we made the plays that we had to make. Today we got the breaks.”

We now have the momentum now we need to retain some consistency; Jim Mora knows this and wants to keep this going. For two years we have been fighting to get to this plateau and we need to direct and teach this new talent to take it to another level.

We must have our players believe that they can do this every game, and be successful at it, regaining confidence and personnel excellence must be stressed, we know we can overcome adversity these last two games are evident of that, one a defensive blow-out and the other a defensive super-bowl.

So it is with that knowledge and comprehension that we must move on and look to the future, Ensuring that we have confidence in this coaching staff to make the correct decisions, and as it stands they have.

In regards to Week 12 and our victory over The Atlanta Falcons 16-6 once again for the second consecutive time our defense stood out vividly for all to see what kind of improvement we have made since Week One.

Our defense held The Atlanta Falcons to a total of 211 yards, with one of the highlights being Rookie Cornerback Jason Webster returning a interception 70 yards for the game’s only touchdown.

The Atlanta Falcons, who beat San Francisco 36-28 in Week One haven’t won in 3-Com since 1991, Jamal Anderson was held to 76 yards rushing, and Chandler was 16-of-33 for just 154 yards.

“I think we’re showing progress, and I think the confidence is starting to creep in a little bit,” 49er’s coach Steve Mariucci said. “We need to develop a swagger here. It’s going to take a year or two to get that 49er swagger back.”

San Francisco (4-8) sacked Chris Chandler four times, twice by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Bryant Young, and kept the Falcons out of the end zone.

The 49er’s, who beat Kansas City 21-7 last week, held consecutive opponents under 10 points for the first time since the third and fourth weeks of the 1997 season.

These are the life signs of Jim Mora’s defense regarded as the stumbling blocks for this franchise; they are now becoming seasoned and strengthened as time wears on. Which is all anybody can honestly expect with so much youth.

We can rest assured that this defense will only grow and mature even more come next season, especially with another draft to provide depth and even more talent. Skip the drafting of a quarterback as mentioned by some and concentrate on positions so close to being elite.

The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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