DeShaun Foster was in the final stretch of recruiting in his role as the running backs coach at Texas Tech when his caller ID showed a familiar name: Jim Mora.
Holmesian deduction wasn’t required to figure out what his former boss at UCLA might be calling about. It had been about two weeks since Mora hired Jedd Fisch as the offensive coordinator at UCLA and the Bruins were still without a running backs coach.
Foster, one of the best running backs in school history, left his post as UCLA’s director of player development after the 2015 season to take his first full-time coaching position at Texas Tech and was an obvious candidate to fill the vacancy left by Kennedy Polamalu’s dismissal several weeks prior.
Sure enough, Mora offered him the job and after sleeping on it, Foster called him back the next morning to accept.
“When home is calling you to come back,” Foster said, “it was something I felt like I couldn’t turn down.”
One of the first people who called Foster to congratulate him on the new job was Polamalu, whom he developed a lot of respect for during his previous stint at UCLA (2013-15). While Foster served as an undergraduate volunteer assistant, a grad assistant and in the player development role during that time, he picked up a lot from watching Polamalu coach the position.
Even though the offense sputtered after Polamalu was elevated to offensive coordinator, his experience coaching the running backs has never been questioned -- evident by how quickly the Minnesota Vikings hired him as the position coach once he hit the open market.
Still, there’s no denying there’s a lot to fix. By this point, the Bruins’ inability to run the ball last year was well-documented and without much turnover from a personnel standpoint, it’s fair to wonder what kind of turnaround can be expected next year.
Foster’s initial impression mirrors much of the diagnosis from last year.
“These kids have talent. There is nothing wrong talent-wise,” he said. “It’s just little things. People think you get the ball and run, but it’s more than that. You have to prep them on what they’re looking for and how to do that.”
And there are few people who can speak from experience like Foster. He finished his UCLA career second all time in school history in touchdowns (44), third in rushing (3,194 yards) and was a second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in the 2002 NFL draft. During his seven-year NFL career, he gained over 4,000 total yards and scored a 33-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XXVIII.
“DeShaun is a Bruin through and through, which makes this such an exciting addition to our staff,” Mora said in a statement announcing the hire. “On top of being a tremendous alum, consummate professional, trusted voice and valued mentor, he is an exceptional football coach whose pedigree and knowledge of the game command respect. We’re thrilled to welcome DeShaun back home where he belongs.”
Unlike last year at Texas Tech, when he was going into a new situation all together, his return to UCLA has been relatively seamless. He has preexisting relationships with almost all of the current players -- either from their initial recruitment or from being on campus with him before. That part has allowed him to bypass the usual getting-to-know-you period most new coaches go through.
Since UCLA put the final touches on their recruiting class on Feb. 1, the staff has met regularly to install the offense. Fisch, who arrived at UCLA after serving as the quarterbacks coach at Michigan, runs the show -- and Mora pops in and out between the defensive and offensive meetings -- but Foster said it has been a group effort in developing something that fits their players.
As things have progressed, Foster has taken bits and pieces back to his room of players so they’ll be ready to make the most out of spring practice when it begins in April. He’s also spent time going over last year’s film and sharing his thoughts on what went wrong.
“They have to learn from that stuff,” he said. “I told them what I’ve noticed and then we moved on.”
Whether his voice and the new scheme will make a positive impact remains to be seen, but Foster is confident it will -- and he is happy to be home.
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