Friday, January 14, 2011

Stanford's Big Win

It should have been a dark time at Stanford University. Football coach Jim Harbaugh had just fled campus for the NFL. Everyone's darling, Chris Petersen from Boise State, had said "thanks, but no thanks" to the Stanford folks.

But Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby has made a terrific choice, hiring offensive coordinator David Shaw to replace Harbaugh. In one fell swoop, Stanford gets:

  • Continuity Shaw is already familiar with the Stanford offense (and star quarterback Andrew Luck) that ran roughshod over opponents this past season.
  • Passion Shaw played at Stanford, a school he set his sights on as a young teenager. He believes deeply in the place.
  • Confidence This is a coach who believes Stanford can compete against the nation's best programs.
At his introductory news conference, Shaw invoked the names of two legendary Stanford coaches he hopes to emulate in the longevity department: Dick Gould and Tara VanDerveer. Gould ran the Stanford tennis program for nearly 40 years, winning 17 NCAA championships along the way. VanDerveer, of course, is one of college basketball's most successful coaches with 2 NCAA titles of her own.

Shaw has done the usual football coach "love every couple of years" routine, and he's ready for it to end. He joked that he wants this week's job interview st Stanford to be his last.

His challenge now will be a two-part problem: he'll have to manage expectations (Stanford is unlikely to be a #4-ranked team year after year) while at the same time refusing to buy into the traditional argument that Stanford can't win because of its stringent admission requirements.

I've always argued that those who thought Stanford was handicapped by its admissions requirements were looking at the problem the wrong way. Is it true that the vast majority of high school football players would be unable to gain admission to Stanford? Sure.

But it's also true that there are lots of kids who are "all-arounders". You know the kind: star athlete, great grades, dates the head cheerleader, helps old ladies across the street. Maybe even an Eagle Scout. They're few in number, but they are out there.

Those are the recruits Stanford needs to go after, and there's no reason to think it can't win its share of them. After all, the pool of top-notch academic schools that also compete at the highest level of athletics is pretty small: Stanford, Duke, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, and a few others.

Again, Stanford may never win a national title. It may never run off a string of BCS bowl appearances. But it should be able to consistently post winning records and compete in the newly-aligned Pac-12, year after year.

If that happens, Shaw will be able to realize his dream and become a Stanford lifer.

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