LOS ANGELES — When Jim Mora took his first college head coaching job, there was something that touched him about working with college kids. It made an already-emotional coach even more fiercely protective of the players on his team.
Nick Pasquale was no different. Pasquale, who passed away early Sunday morning after being struck by a car in his hometown of San Clemente, might not have played much on the field but Mora made it abundantly clear that the walk-on wide receiver had “a tremendous impact” in the locker room.
Mora began an impassioned opening statement on Pasquale and was interrupted by a local TV technician, who was attempting to set up equipment in the J.D. Morgan Center Press Room. In the corner of the room hiding behind a large plant, the media member was loudly talking on his cell phone.
A member of the UCLA athletics staff had approached him to ask him to stop but Mora was clearly disturbed.
“Can you shut up?” Mora asked.
A tense standoff ensued.
Mora felt that he had been shown extreme disrespect and voiced that. After a too-late apology, Mora declared that he had nothing left to say and exited the room.
In this instance, the emotional outburst was more than understandable — and more than warranted.
While Mora did return to briefly address the media — sans TV crews — it was a glimpse into what the Bruins are forced to deal with this week, one that the Bruins should be enjoying, as the 16th-ranked team will face No. 23 Nebraska on Saturday morning in a nationally-televised affair at Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium.
This week should be about working toward another statement-making win, stopping the run of Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and facing a hostile crowd in one of the best college football atmospheres in the country.
Instead, the Bruins are grieving.
“Everyone is going to process this differently and everyone’s emotions are going to be unique unto themselves and I’m not sure they will all know how to process their emotions yet so I think it’s important to give them some time to do that,” Mora said. “My job is first and foremost to watch out for the health and well-being of these kids.”
UCLA will wear patches with the number 36 on Saturday, while the Cornhuskers will also show respect with a No. 36 decal on the back of their helmets.
It’s a classy move by both parties to show exactly what Mora wants in this situation: Respect for a classy kid.
“I told them that the most important thing that we do every day is honor Nick and his family,” Mora said. “I told them it’s not about wins and losses but about the way we go out and play. And I think our kids understand that.”