Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press file photo
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press file photo
The diagram David Shaw has for the future of Stanford football is on a simple sheet of paper resting on the coach’s desk.
This week’s itinerary:
Wednesday at Palo Alto High School.
Thursday in Ohio.
Friday in New Jersey.
Saturday at the Virginia state championship game.
On Tuesday, assistants hit Northern California, Southern California, Houston, Louisiana and Ohio. Three of those coaches traveled to different places Wednesday.
“We actually see less people than everybody else,” Shaw said. “We just have to go to more places.”
As improbable as it once seemed, Shaw is finding ways to sustain success at a place better known for producing future world leaders and venture capitalists than Heisman Trophy finalists and NFL draft picks.
After a 27-24 victory Nov. 30 over UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game sealed Stanford’s first Rose Bowl berth since the 1999 season, there was no time to rest either. Shaw and his staff have something to sell recruits that even some of college football’s most storied programs only can imagine: three consecutive BCS bowls.
Only Oregon and Wisconsin, who the eighth-ranked Cardinal (11-2) will face in Pasadena on Jan. 1, can match that active streak. Stanford also is the only school to be ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press poll and U.S. News & World Report’s academic rankings the last three years, something Shaw and his coaches have used to separate themselves on the recruiting trail.
“Are we becoming a football powerhouse? They still don’t want to call us a football powerhouse,” said Shaw, who has won Pac-12 Coach of the Year in each of his first two seasons. “But how many teams have gone to three BCS bowls? How many teams have lost five games in three years?”
If this year proved anything, it’s that Stanford’s success no longer seems to be a passing thing.
The Cardinal weathered the loss of Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart after the 2009 season. Jim Harbaugh accepted the San Francisco 49ers job after the 2010 season. And Andrew Luck left to become the No. 1 overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts after the 2011 season.
Stanford still has won at least 11 games each of the last three years. The program had won 10 games only three times before (1992, 1940 and 1926), yet Shaw still is fighting the perception that the prestigious academics university is miscast among college football heavyweights.
“I guarantee it’s not done. I guarantee,” Shaw said. “I told the guys before, ‘This needs to be done over a long period of time before we even think about changing the national conscience.’ That’s just the fact. There is no mountain top. We haven’t reached a mountain top and said, ‘OK. Now everybody’s going to get it.’ It’s not going to happen. Not yet.”
Shaw’s secret to sustaining success goes back to three of his biggest mentors: late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, former Raiders owner Al Davis and Shaw’s father, Willie.
Taking a break from watching video of the Wisconsin-Nebraska game earlier this week, Shaw pointed to a book in his office by Walsh titled, The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership. Shaw has tried to run his program the same way Walsh won: to concentrate on the process that builds winners, not the wins.
Shaw slides over to show a photo of Davis glaring at the one-time assistant coach before a game in Oakland. Anytime “Young Shaw,” as Davis called him, relaxed by putting his hands in his pockets, the owner would scream: “Get your hands out of your pockets! You can’t coach with your hands in your pockets!”
Davis often questioned Shaw, too, just to make sure he knew the answers. Once, he asked for Shaw’s opinion on a player the Raiders eventually drafted, and Shaw agreed with most in the room to select that player.
A few months later, the Raiders cut ties with the pick, and Davis called out Shaw in a room full of coaches without ever turning his chair around: “Young David, do you understand now why we can’t draft players like this? Why we need guys that are faster?”
“He could smash you,” Shaw said. “But he wanted to see you come back again, poke your chest out and tell him what you believe.”
There are plenty of other helpful reminders in photos behind Shaw’s desk.
One is particularly striking: Shaw is with his father, a former NFL and college assistant coach, wearing a generic No. 12 Stanford jersey – the number Luck later wore – on picture day in 1975. At that time, Shaw said, people viewed the Cardinal coaching position the same way they did up until a few years ago.
“Stanford used to be referred to me by a couple older coaches as ‘That retirement job,’” Shaw said. “That’s the job you go there and retire. You know you’re not going to win a lot. But every once in a while you’re going to be pretty competitive, but you love the area, you love the kids that you’re working with. It’s OK.”
Times certainly have changed.
Shaw credits former athletic director Bob Bowlsby for vastly increasing the recruiting budget, subsidizing housing for coaches and increasing salaries. All of that has made the Stanford head coach’s office one of the more attractive places in the country.
Shaw seems settled in now, decorating his corner suite with everything from a bobblehead doll of Luck to a football signed by wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown to the inspiring life lessons of photos throughout the years. He still insists he doesn’t know of a better job in the country – and often times it’s because of reasons he can’t find in any keepsake.
One of those moments happened last Sunday, when Willie Shaw walked into his office. Before the two exchanged words, Shaw’s father – once a candidate for the Stanford head coaching job in 1992 before Walsh decided to return – smothered his son for a once-in-a-lifetime embrace.
“It wasn’t one of those 2-second hugs,” Shaw said. “It was one of those kind of 10, 12-second hugs. He’s very proud. He’s very excited, and he let me know that I don’t have a choice: He’s going to be on the field for the Rose Bowl.
“He informed me that he’s been waiting his entire career to be on the sideline of a Rose Bowl game. I said, ‘You’ve got it, coach.’”
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press file photo