Originally created 04/08/04

New coach challenges, reinvigorates players



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Another ho-hum spring practice for the Atlanta Falcons? Not with Jim Mora running the show.

Hired two months ago to replace Dan Reeves, Mora flashed a fiery temper Wednesday at his first practice with the Falcons. Reporters were told not to use their cell phones as they watched the outdoor drills, but one local columnist made the mistake of answering a call.

The 42-year-old Mora barked to a public relations assistant to address the affront immediately.

"Some people might say, 'Well, it's April, why do you need the intensity in April?' " Mora said. "You need to learn how to play with intensity, you need to learn how to play with passion, you need to learn how to play with emotion, yet control it all. It needs to be intense and it needs to be enthusiastic."

Mora has struck a chord with his players. Attendance for the first session of the "voluntary" three-day mini-camp was nearly 100 percent.

Only defensive tackle Ellis Johnson, who is spending another offseason pondering retirement, and cornerback Tyrone Williams, who likely will be released in early June, were absent. Johnson told coaches long ago that he would remain at home in Indiana.

Defensive end Patrick Kerney saw Mora's approach as necessary. In five years with the Falcons, Kerney, a former first-round pick, has played on teams that went a combined 23-40-1.

"Last season was miserable," Kerney said of the 5-11 record. "It was pathetic. So the quicker you can get back to focusing on the next season, the better, because that's what's going to make us forget 2003."

Mora, who spent the last five years as San Francisco's defensive coordinator, comes from a team that went 7-9 last year, only the 49ers' third losing record since 1983. In the same span, the Falcons have only four winning records.

"He runs everything at a fast pace, which is great because that's how football games are," Kerney said. "That's how Sundays are - everything's on the go, you've got to be thinking fast, and we're moving from drill to drill as fast as we can. We're thinking on the go, and I think he's setting new standards for work and sacrifice that people didn't know they had in them."

Mora sent his first message to players when Atlanta's offseason conditioning program began March 22. Mora, a former walk-on cornerback who helped Washington get two Rose Bowl bids in a playing career that ended in 1983, stood in the weight room, sweating and grunting through the same workouts.

"I wanted to be able to do what the players do so they couldn't complain about it being too hard," Mora said.

Mora, the NFL's third-youngest head coach behind Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden and Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio, believes the Falcons can't afford to wait to develop a winning attitude. His style of coaching isn't much different from the one his father, former New Orleans and Indianapolis head coach Jim Mora, used to lead the Saints and Colts to a combined six playoff appearances.

"That's how my dad taught me," Mora said. "If my dad ever saw you standing there with your hands in your pocket or not coaching a guy, God help you. And that's just how we did it. I don't subscribe to that old theory of, 'Oh they're pros, they'll turn it on on Sunday.' Get it going right from the get-go. Keep it going."



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