Shortly after UCLA announced its plans to build a new football training facility, head coach Jim Mora made this clear: He knows how to rough it.
In January 1995, Mora was the New Orleans Saints' defensive backs coach when a two-alarm fire evicted the team from its main practice building, heavily damaging a structure that contained more than $1 million in equipment. The team's ensuing move, however, didn't require a difficult adjustment.
“The sauna caught on fire and they burned down,” Mora said. “We brought in trailers and the trailers were a huge upgrade to the facilities that we had. So I've never been one that thought facilities won football games for you.”
That maxim doesn't hold quite as much water in the college ranks. When UCLA officially announced Tuesday morning its plans to build a $50 million football building west of Spaulding Field, part of the impetus lay in recruiting. The sport has seen a sort of arms race ensue, in which the most extravagant facilities now hold everything from waterfalls to barbershops. To most 17-year-olds, the glitz is hard to resist.
“That was pro football, where you get to pick your players,” Mora said. “In college football, you pick them but they've also got to pick you. Facilities do become important. The aesthetics become important. To some kids, uniforms are important. Obviously, academics are important. Having a winning team's important.
“I never felt like these facilities were poor because they're functional. Our people around here do a really nice job of keeping them nice. They may not look the nicest, but they always look presentable.”
The team currently uses Bud Knapp Football Center, which is located on the first floor of the Acosta Athletic Complex. The 15,000-square-foot weight room in the complex is shared by all sports teams.
Rick Neuheisel, whom Mora succeeded as head coach, told the Bay Area News Group last month that the Bruins were “dead-last” in the conference in terms of facilities. If the Bruins' latest project is successful, recruits will have one less reason not to spend four or five years in Westwood.
Other Pac-12 teams, including Oregon, Washington and Cal, have upgraded their training areas in recent years. The Huskies' $280 million project included a stadium overhaul, while the Bears reportedly spent $153 million on its new Simpson Center. The Ducks' latest renovation cost $68 million, but Oregon has long been at the head of the facilities race.
The $50 million price tag may be a conservative estimate, but UCLA is also restricted by a small campus.
The school has begun a campaign to raise the private funds necessary for the project, and is in the process of selecting an architect.
“This is an exciting project that will continue to propel UCLA football forward by allowing our coaches and student-athletes to teach, learn and develop in a state-of-the-art facility,” athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement. “We are working alongside our campus facility team to create a complex which complements Jim's vision of our football program.
“We have seen time and again Bruin alumni and friends change our future, allowing our programs to thrive, and I am confident our supporters will answer the call.”
Said Mora in the same press release: “We talk a lot about family within our program, and now, we need the entire UCLA family to join us on this endeavor.”
Construction will begin as certain funding goals are reached. There is currently no projected completion date.
“Tomorrow,” Mora said. “If it could be done by tomorrow, we'd be happy.”