What hasn’t been said about a quarterback in the run up to the NFL Draft? They get picked apart like a pie on a kitchen counter, until there’s nothing of any substance left. Every throw is scrutinized, sure, but then there’s all the rest of the bullshit. Would he rather be a cat or a dog? Is he afraid of clowns? Boxers or briefs? All of those are real questions teams have asked prospects at the NFL Combine. None of them have anything to do with quarterbacking, but if you can tell whether somebody will turn into a Super Bowl-winning quarterback by knowing what kind of underwear he prefers…well, then you just might be a genius.

But never has a quarterback’s personality come into question in quite the same way as Josh Rosen’s has in recent days. Others have and will be scrutinized, but what’s so unique about Rosen’s situation is that the person leading the charge in questioning his makeup isn’t a pundit on ESPN or an anonymous source who wants the player’s stock to fall. Instead, the criticism is coming from his own college coach. That’s unheard of and more than a little bizarre. When the much more troubled Johnny Manziel declared for the draft, his coach Kevin Sumlin called him “the most exciting football player I’ve ever seen.” Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley said of supreme knucklehead Baker Mayfield, “He’s an NFL quarterback.” Those were two players with serious off the field issues. The worst Josh Rosen has ever done is to wear a homemade hat that said, “FUCK TRUMP” at one of Trump’s golf clubs.[1]

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Jim Mora, though, who recruited Rosen to UCLA and coached him for three years, went on NFL Network last week and said, “Because of fit, I would take Sam Darnold if I were the Cleveland Browns. That blue-collar, gritty attitude. I think his teammates will love him.”

There was widespread confusion, of course, about why a player’s own coach would say that he’d take somebody else—especially considering that the someone else in question played for an archrival. In an attempt to clarify himself, Mora told Peter King that he thinks Darnold is a better fit for the Browns, even though Rosen is “the number-one quarterback in the draft.” If he stopped there, the whole episode would be a weird hiccup and nothing more. But Mora continued about Rosen, “He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored.”

A day later, Mora went went on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio and said, “If Josh manages his life off the football field and commits to being a great football player not just when he’s at the facility, but when he’s away from the facility, he is going to be amazingly successful.”

So, it seems like Mora’s gripe with Rosen is that he doesn’t care enough. He’s not the only one to make the remark. Rosen has dealt with that critique his entire career. The problem, when coming out of the mouth of his former coach, is that it doesn’t come across as a legitimate judgement against Rosen. It seems a whole lot more like an excuse.

Jim Mora is not a good coach. Let’s make that clear. His NFL teams were never good, and he’s made a career at UCLA of underperforming expectations. When Rosen came to Westwood from St. John Bosco, fans started saying things like Rosen would take their team to a “level we haven’t yet seen it reach.” Instead, they’ve gone 17-19 without any bowl wins.

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Judging from that record, Rosen was a colossal bust. But to anybody who watched him in college, he was anything but that. He passed for 3,500 yards in both of his full seasons (he was injured for half of his sophomore year) and is among the top-25 Pac 12 passers all-time in passing yards, passer efficiency rating, and total yards per play. He threw too many interceptions, but he also wasn’t given much to work with. In this year’s season opener against Texas A&M, the Bruins were down 44-10 at halftime. Rallied by 292 yards and four touchdowns from their quarterback in the fourth quarter, UCLA won. Of course, the rest of the team couldn’t make it easy. Jordan Lasley dropped a pass that would have gotten a first down in the last minute of the game. No problem, though. Two plays later, Rosen threw Lasley a touchdown anyway. It was as impressive an individual performance as you’ll see in college football, and Rosen flashed the same ability to take over a game that Vince Young and Deshaun Watson made famous.

How UCLA managed to be so lackluster with such a special talent under center should have been one of the biggest stories of the college football season, but because UCLA was more concerned with why their basketball team can’t make the tournament, it wasn’t on many people’s radars. If people were paying any attention, Jim Mora would have been fired at least a season ago. Instead, he’s able to point at his quarterback and rather than recognize his own coaching failures, he can pin the team’s struggles as the result of their star’s irreconcilable personality problem. That’s bad leadership. It’s also cowardly.

And, besides, whose job is it to mold the character of their players? If a top prospect who clearly has his sights set on the NFL has leadership issues, shouldn’t the coach specifically work on those skills? That’s the entire point of a college coach. If Rosen gets into trouble off the field, Mora needs to set him straight. If Rosen really needs to be pushed intellectually to stay focused, Mora needs to push him. If Mora recognizes Rosen needs to be challenged and still doesn’t do anything, any failure of Rosen’s in those areas is Mora’s fault. The coach is criticizing himself.

It doesn’t seem like there’s much merit to the conjecture that Rosen doesn’t care about football, anyways. When he came out of high school, scouts praised his makeup as much as his arm strength. Last year, in comments that ignited another wave of “Rosen doesn’t give a damn!” he was asked what he thought about players who sat out bowl games. He gave a long, insightful answer. He said he was fortunate to play a position where he didn’t have as much of a risk as getting hurt as, say, a running back does. He also said he was privileged in general, and that others don’t come from the same circumstances. “A lot of people bash them, but some of them have to realize that some of these guys have families,” he said of players who elect to sit out. “Some of these guys have kids. Some of these guys really have to support the people around them. Some of them may be put in unfortunate circumstances where they can’t afford to be in school another year.”

Somehow, those comments were read as revealing someone who hasn’t made football a priority in their life. I beg to differ. I see a future leader, someone who I’d know has my back. Someone who understands locker room dynamics. Someone with empathy.

Clearly he didn’t take many cues from his old head coach.

[1]God bless him for that, by the way. Rosen also got in hot water when it was revealed that Rosen had a hot tub in his dorm room (see what I did there with hot water, by the way?). Again, that shouldn’t be a point of ridicule. Are you telling me you wouldn’t have a hot tub in your room if you could?