Mora left the Patriots for the Stars' job.jpg

Jim Mora

Mora, like many who coached and played in the USFL, was pleasantly surprised by the talent in the new league. “The USFL’s talent never got the credit it deserved, ” he says. “The NFL would never recognize it as a good league because we were the competition.” 

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Jim Mora - Philadelphia Stars

Jim Mora was the defensive coordinator for the New England

Patriots when the Philadelphia Stars came calling.

 

 Initially, George Perles was the coach of the Stars, but he left to coach Michigan State before training camp started. The Stars’ GM Carl Peterson turned to the 47-year-old Mora to lead the franchise after flirting with Penn State's Joe Paterno.  “I really didn’t know anything about the USFL," says Mora 23 years later from his home in Palm Springs, California. 

 

The Patriots were in the thick of the playoff hunt, and Mora didn’t want to lose focus of his job at hand.  After the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in the first-round of the playoffs, Peterson convinced Mora and his wife, Connie, to come down to Philly and talk about coaching the Stars. “ I wasn’t really interested, but I had nothing to lose,” says Mora, who accepted the job.  “I was really impressed with their[Stars] organization, the players, and ownership.

 

Peterson offered Mora the job two weeks before training camp started in Florida.  “ I didn’t have a coaching staff, players, nothing,” says Mora. “ I had to interview coaches after the training camp started.” Mora was getting to know some of his staff on the flight down to training camp in DeLand, Florida.  Despite the lack of preparation time, the Philadelphia Stars won a league-best 15 games in 1983.

 

Initially, USFL teams had to make due with what was available to them in terms of facilities. “We had to practice on a gravel parking lot a few times because of the heavy rain in Florida,” says Mora.  “We took old-yellow school buses to scrimmage against other teams that had their camp in Florida.” 

 

Mora, like many who coached and played in the USFL, was pleasantly surprised by the talent in the new league. “The USFL’s talent never got the credit it deserved, ” he says. “The NFL would never recognize it as a good league because we were the competition.” 

 

The Stars were filled with players that thrived in the NFL:  LB’s Mike Johnson and George Jamison, T Irv Eatman and P Sean Landeta had a tremendous impact on the NFL scene. C Bart Oates, DE William Fuller and LB Sam Mills were perennial Pro Bowl players.

 

 

From the Stars coaching staff alone came defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Dom Capers, the former head coach of the Texans and  Panthers.  Seven players went on to play 10 years in the NFL.

 

The Stars moved to College Park Maryland for the 1985 season as the USFL prepared to switch to a fall schedule in 1986.  Management thought Baltimore would be an ideal location, since the city had been without a pro football team for two years since the Colts made their “midnight run” to Indianapolis. 

 

 

While the Stars played at the University of Maryland, they practiced in Philly and kept their team offices at Veterans Stadium. But the relationship became "dicey" with the Stars.

 

“About half-way through the season [1985], the Vet kicked us out of our offices, and we had to move to the ROTC building at the University of Pennsylvania,” says Mora with a note of disdained in his voice. “All the coaches were in one classroom; in separate corners; coming up with the game plans.”

 

After posting a 31-5 regular-season record in the first two seasons, the Stars dropped to 10-7-1 in the ’85 campaign. “The moving really had an effect on us that year,” says Mora.

 

Despite the “gypsy” life-style for the Stars, Mora’s troops came through like the champions they were, beating the Generals and Stallions in the playoffs; then Mora got his revenge on Bobby Hebert and Anthony Carter with a 28-24 win in the USFL Championship against the Oakland Invaders.

 

Hebert and Carter victimized Mora’s Stars in the first USFL Championship as members of the Michigan Panthers by beating the Stars 24-22.  Hebert was named the game’s MVP, while Carter caught nine passes for 175 yards, including the game-clinching 48-yard TD reception with 3:01 remaining. 

 

Mora's Stars played in all three USFL Championships – winning the last two. After the USFL folded, Mora was getting plenty of interest for a head coaching job in the NFL.   Before the Saints hired Mora, he was offered the head coaching job with the Cardinals and the Eagles. “ I wanted the Saints job because they never won there, and football was important to the people in New Orleans,” he says.

 

Mora led the Saints to the playoffs four times in seven years; he had at least eight wins in seven of his 11 years as head coach of the Saints – which never had a winning season in the 20 years before Mora came to New Orleans.  Unfortunately, the Saints never won a playoff game during their four post-season appearances under Mora.  But it was a great accomplishment for an organization that knew nothing but losing for more than two decades.

 

“You knew he was an outstanding coach because we went to three title games in a row, and won two of them,” says Landeta, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants. “When the league ended, he went to a team that didn’t have a lot of success and had them in the playoffs a year later. His record shows he was an outstanding coach.” 

 

Mora was 93-78 for New Orleans before resigning midway through the 1996 season, after the Saints dropped to 2-6.

 

Owner Tom Benson showed his support by saying to the press, " I hope everyone will remember that this team never had a winning season until he became our coach."

 

 

Mora took over a franchise that was on the downside when he was handed the reigns in Indianapolis in 1998. The Colts won only three games the year before, and with a young quarterback in Peyton Manning, the competitive Mora struggled with a 3-13 record in his first year with the Colts.

 

But in '99, the Colts stomped their way to an AFC East title with a 13-3 record. “It was a fast turnaround,” Manning said. “It definitely came faster than we expected. We knew we’d be a better football team this year, but we didn’t know we’d be this good.”

 

But Mora didn’t have much better luck in the playoffs with the Colts. Mora lost post-season games to the Titans and the Dolphins in his four-year tenure in Indianapolis. In a strange twist, Mora’s son, Jim Mora, Jr., won a playoff game in his first year as head coach of the Falcons in 2004.

 

The Colts finished 2001 with a disappointing 6-10 record. Midway through the year, Mora blurted the famous word: “PLAYOFFS!” during a post-game press conference after a Colts loss when a reporter asked him about the team's chances for the post-season. After four years with the Colts, Mora relationship with general manager Bill Polian became "dicey" at best. 

 

According to Pro Football Weekly, Polian and Mora clashed over the defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the Colts' 29th ranked defense.  Polian wanted to dismiss Fangio, but Mora refused to fire his long-time coordinator and friend.

 

Mora's loyalty to Fangio forced Polian's hand, as Mora was soon released of his duties as head coach of the Colts.