PALM BEACH, Fla. - Jim Mora likes to say he's spent most of his 42 years preparing to be a head coach in the NFL.
Based on how comfortable Mora seemed Tuesday at the league's annual meetings, it's easy to see why.
Yes, Mora shares the same name as his father, who won 125 games during successful stints as head coach in New Orleans and Indianapolis, but the protégé hired Jan. 8 to replace Dan Reeves in Atlanta could seemingly blend in anywhere.
James Lawrence Mora has known Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil and San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer most of his life. Conversations with San Francisco coach Dennis Erickson, Mora's boss last year, and Detroit coach Steve Mariucci, who led the 49ers to four playoff appearances from 1997-2002, hardly feel awkward.
Mora can schmooze with league commissioner Paul Tagliabue or playfully tease NFL Films president Steve Sabol. He maintains long-running "feuds" with coaches closer to his age such as New Orleans' Jim Haslett.
"We've got to quit shooting barbs at each other because people will think we're serious after a while," Mora said with a mischievous grin.
The reality of Mora's new life, however, is only beginning to take hold. He and his wife of 11 years, Shannon, just moved from San Francisco to their new home at Sugarloaf Country Club in Duluth, Ga., last week.
They have enjoyed the past three days together in south Florida without their four young children in tow.
"Honestly, the best thing about the meetings for me has been spending extended time with my wife," Mora said. "You know, with young kids, a lot of times you don't get a chance to even talk to each other."
As the Falcons continue to sign free agents and prepare for the NFL Draft next month, Mora has met privately with most of the team's returning veterans - some of whom are surprised to see their new coach putting himself through the same rigorous conditioning program they endure four days a week.
"Just being with Jim - you see the man, and he doesn't even look like a head coach," quarterback Michael Vick said last week. "He just reminds you of an average guy walking around."
That's just how Mora likes it, at least for the time being. As he evaluates players, he goes out of his way to say nothing negative about departed staff members, but several players complained privately that Reeves was irreproachable.
Regardless, Mora believes his decision to adopt conditioning coach Al Miller's regimen will ultimately benefit everyone.
"I wanted to be able to do what the players do so they couldn't complain about it being too hard," Mora said. "But Al's got these things called complexes - they can kill you. They can send you to the garbage can with your head down."
With the Falcons' first veteran mini-camp under Mora scheduled April 7-9, the new coach will finally get a chance to watch his players adapt to formations, protections and blitz packages. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, whose hiring was announced the same day that owner Arthur Blank publicly introduced Mora, worked in the same capacity the last three years in San Francisco.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who joined Atlanta after getting fired in Green Bay, will work closely with Mora, who oversaw San Francisco's defense during the last five years.
NOTES: The owners voted 29-3 to keep instant replay through 2008 and agreed with the competition committee's recommendation that head coaches who successfully challenge two calls will automatically get a third challenge.
Falcons president and general manager Rich McKay, a co-chairman of the committee with Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, was disappointed that owners didn't vote instant replay in as a permanent rule.
"This rule has been tried and tested in our minds," McKay said. "I think we should be a league of permanent rules."
Cincinnati, Kansas City and Indianapolis voted against the five-year extension. ...
Tagliabue received unanimous approval to have his contract extended three years through 2007. His current deal, worth approximately $5 million in annual salary, expires in May 2005. A new contract would pay the commissioner about $8 million per year.
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