With the NCAA’s regular season in the rearview mirror and the NFL’s regular season drawing to a close, now is about the time teams start giving coaches the ax. Underachieving college programs will be looking to cherry-pick up-and-coming coaches and coordinators to take over their programs (see: Sonny Dykes to Cal and Mike MacIntyre to Colorado), while some NFL teams (like the Chiefs, Chargers, Jets, Eagles) may look to follow the 49ers’ blueprint and revitalize their franchise with the NCAA’s best leaders. NFL rumors have followed no coach more doggedly than Oregon’s Chip Kelly, for example.
David Shaw, however, will not be courting any suitors. After going 22-4 in his first two seasons as the Cardinal’s head coach, two straight Pac-12 Coach of the Year Awards and finishing third in the AP Coach of the Year voting this year, the school signed Shaw to a “long-term contract extension” yesterday. The terms have not been released and Stanford has no desire to make those figures public, so we’re left with nothing really to say except, “smart move.”
Jim Harbaugh, Shaw’s predecessor, took a 1-11 Walt Harris-coached Cardinal team and carved them into a 12-1 heavyweight in a four-year span. Harbaugh recruited to build a team based on running the football and playing stout defense, but he also had Andrew Luck. After Harbaugh left for the 49ers, Shaw only had one season to coach a Luck-led Cardinal squad. Shaw picked up where Harbaugh left off, going 11-2 in the 2011 regular season and losing to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, just wide of the uprights.
After Luck left (along with several other key players), many felt that Stanford would falling hopelessly back into the hodgepodge of NCAA mediocrity. Certainly they wouldn’t be capable of taking down Pac-12 heavyweights like the Ducks or the USC Trojans, the people thought would contend for a BCS Title.
Quite the opposite happened. While the Cardinal’s home upset of USC looks a lot less impressive now that the 7-5 Trojans are playing in the Sun Bowl (go ahead guys, point and laugh), Stanford’s 11-2 season — which includes a road stoning of the Oregon Ducks and back-t0-back victories over the UCLA Bruins for a Pac-12 Championship — hasn’t lost any luster. The Cardinal’s No. 6 BCS ranking marks an impressive climb, as they came into the season ranked No. 25. If it wasn’t for an awfully home team-friendly overtime call in South Bend, that ranking would conceivably be higher.
Take a look at the timeline: Jim Harbaugh left this team with an Orange Bowl victory, and David Shaw hasn’t missed a beat with trips to the Fiesta Bowl last year and now, a trip to so-called “Granddaddy of Them All.” Several aspects of Shaw’s two-year tenure at Stanford indicate he is a fantastic coach and, as such, this is extension is a good move:
- If you watched 2010 and 2011 without sideline shots, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether it was Harbaugh or Shaw wearing the headset. The philosophy (which you could term as “Nerds can not only be tough, they can beat the snot out of you every Saturday”) never changed, and neither did the success.
- Stanford lost Andrew Luck — the school’s best player since John Elway — and though the offense was slowed, it never stopped producing, thanks mostly to one of the better offensive lines in the country and Stepfan Taylor.
- Along with Luck went names like Coby Fleener, Griff Walen, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, Michael Thomas and Matt Masifilo. 12 players in all left for the 2012 draft (including four among the first 42 selected), yet the offense stayed consistent and the defense got BETTER.
- Shaw made his transition from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan as seamlessly as a sunrise. The offensive philosophy changed pretty drastically without hindering its productivity.
As for Shaw leaving Stanford for greener pastures, Cardinal fans probably don’t need to worry for a little while. This extension should ensure that there’s stability in the head coaching ranks for at least the next couple years, unless Shaw gets the NFL itch. If you’re wondering how likely that is…
“Put it this way,” Shaw said. “I want to be coaching here until my kids graduate from here. And I have a 2-year-old.”