Shaw Steps Up

Former assistant replaces Harbaugh.

March/April 2011

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Shaw Steps Up

Zach Sanderson/Stanford Athletics

You can blink now. The Stanford football program has stopped spinning, at least for a while. But wow, that was some show the Cardinal put on.

When the dust settled, there was a new head coach, David Shaw, who moved up from offensive coordinator to succeed Jim Harbaugh, off to the San Francisco 49ers after achieving the kind of success that made him a candidate for about everything except the White House.

Just as momentously, to the shock of cynics and hurrahs of the University community, quarterback Andrew Luck decided to return for another season on the Farm, delaying a pro career that was projected to start with his selection as this year's No. 1 NFL draft pick. Luck, a redshirt sophomore who expects to earn his degree next spring, gave some well-needed luster to the image of student-athletes and set up Stanford for another high-flying year.

Harbaugh's departure came just four days after Stanford's 40-12 trouncing of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and slightly dimmed the glow of a 12-1 season and a No. 4 national ranking. Not to mention that he also took along three assistant coaches, Greg Roman, Vic Fangio and Tim Drevno.

On the other hand, Shaw, a former Stanford wide receiver, made it clear at his press conference that the last thing he cared about was basking in glory, no matter how recent. "Our goals are not met," he declared. "We're not done yet. We did not win our conference. Oregon did that. But now, going into the new era of the Pac-12, we're excited. We have a desire to be the first Pac-12 champions."

Shaw, '94, is the first alum to be head coach since Paul Wiggin, '56, MA '59, led the program in the early '80s. That insider factor helped him win the job, said athletic director Bob Bowlsby, because "he understands and embraces the academic and athletic merger at Stanford." Shaw, said Bowlsby, "is exactly the right person at the right time."

Shaw's attachment runs deep, infused in part from observing the coaching career of his father. Willie Shaw coached college and NFL teams for more than three decades, including two stints at Stanford ('74 to '76 and '89 to '91). "Since the day I started coaching," said Shaw, "this is the job that I always knew that I wanted."

In Harbaugh, the Cardinal had a coach who also felt a powerful attraction to the NFL. "I think we all recognized," says President John Hennessy, "that our coach eventually wanted to play for the pros." But amid the many rumors about Harbaugh's future, Hennessy notes, "He said to me, 'I won't go to another college program, because I'm at the best one I can be at.' " Rather than compete with the pros, said Hennessy, the University's goal, if Harbaugh chose to stay, was to "really indicate to him that we appreciated what he had done with the team in terms of building it and rejuvenating football at Stanford."

Shaw, 38, says he envisions only one future: "I went into the interview process with the mindset that I wanted this to be my last head coaching interview, ever."

President's Pride

For John Hennessy, the best football moment came after the season, when quarterback Andrew Luck chose to remain a student-athlete instead of jumping to the pros. "I wrote a note to Andrew," Hennessy recounts. "I told him I was proud of the whole season; I was proud on Orange Bowl night. But when he made that announcement, I was the proudest university president in the United States."

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