David Shaw Knew It Was Time
David Shaw is a good football coach.
It's a fact that many of Shaw's critics refuse to admit. But consider that he is the winningest Stanford coach of all time (96-54)--ahead of guys like Pop Warner, John Ralston, Bill Walsh, Denny Green, Chuck Taylor and Tyrone Willingham.
He won two Rose Bowls and three Pac-12 championships. He was voted Pac-12 coach of the year, by his peers, no less than four times. He was the national Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year in 2017. From 2011 to 2018, Shaw averaged more than 10 wins a year. Think about that. During those eight years, Stanford was 82-26 and went to a bowl game every year.
Yes, he inherited a strong program from Jim Harbaugh. But he enhanced it. For the record, Harbaugh was 29-21 at Stanford. He never won a Pac-12 title, never was Pac-12 Coach of the Year, never went to the Rose Bowl. He went to two bowl games, winning the Orange and losing the Sun. Harbaugh may have achieved icon status if he stayed, but it was Shaw who recruited and developed Christian McCaffrey, Andrus Peat, Bryce Love, Bobby Okoreke, Dalton Schultz, Blake Martinez, Solomon Thomas, Harrison Phillips, and Paulson Adebo.
The reason I bring this up, of course, is that around midnight on Saturday, after another desultory Stanford loss, this one to BYU by a score of 35-26 in a game that wasn't that close, the Shaw haters got their wish. David resigned.
He wasn't shown the door. He wasn't pushed. He wasn't encouraged. He wasn't going to be fired.
He just knew "it was time."
His program had gone stale, the losses were mounting up, the NIL and transfer portal era was not Stanford friendly, and fans were staying away in droves. He'd won 14 games in four years.
So Shaw did the classy, admirable, and frankly, correct thing. He stepped down.
There were many reasons behind his decision, which he apparently reached over the Thanksgiving holiday, "after many prayers and multiple discussions with my wife, Cori."
Shaw was tired. And he was spending too much time away from family. Coaching nowadays in a power five conference is a 365/24/7 grind. Recruiting in itself is a full-time job. In addition to high school prospects, you have to re-recruit your existing players every year so they don't transfer to another school that is offering money, a starting job, or other inducements.
He knew that the chances of Stanford getting back to college football's elite were becoming slimmer and slimmer. It wasn't that long ago that Shaw was the toast of the town. Giving TED talks. Doing draft commentary on ESPN. Winning Coach of the Year awards. Ranking in the top 10. Coming close to the playoffs.
Shaw dreamed at one point of winning the national championship and proving "it can be done the right way." But as other schools devoted ridiculous amounts of money to facilities, recruiting, assistant coaching salaries, and in the last two years, NIL inducements, it became very obvious that wasn't going to happen.
Shaw was uncomfortable with the new landscape of college football. Although he said at a press conference last Tuesday that he was "excited" that the Stanford administration was going to be more flexible in admitting transfers, allowing freshmen to enroll early, and forming NIL collectives, he acted more like a man who was being forced to swallow some poison. I think he felt that even though these things needed to be done, somehow they tainted his vision of what Stanford was and should be.
Consider this comment from his post-game presser, "No one knows what’s going to happen on their teams in the next six months. … But everybody in college sports right now, in particular football, is a little antsy. The combination of NIL and then the illegal pay for play that people are calling NIL and the transfer portal is a really, really interesting combination that everyone is dealing with."
Dealing with it hasn't been easy for Shaw, and it will continue to be difficult for his successor, given Stanford's entrance requirements and reluctance to play the transfer and NIL recruitment game.
Finally, Shaw was loyal to a fault, and he may have become too comfortable and complacent. It was generally believed he had a lifetime appointment. In 12 years as head coach, he never fired one of his assistants.
When Jim Harbaugh left, three of his assistants became the finalists to replace him--Shaw, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and tight ends/offensive tackles coach Greg Roman.
None of Shaw's assistants will be considered as possible successors for him. There was far too much in-breeding in recent years. His coaches went from interns to grad assistants, to quality control coaches, to full-time assistants, to coordinators. No new blood or new ideas were being introduced.
As we've written several times, he needed to replace his offensive and defensive coordinators. Shaw may have feared that the administration would force his hand after another 3-9 season, and it was something he couldn't bring himself to do.
This year, rather than make a coaching change, he imported the Wake Forest "RPO (run pass option) slow mesh" scheme in hopes of revitalizing a stagnant offense. It was a total bust. Quarterback Tanner McKee was uncomfortable with it, his injury-decimated offensive line couldn't control the edge, and his depleted running back corps couldn't take advantage of any openings.
Perhaps it all came home to him this week, as he faced BYU with his fifth string running back, converted safety Mitch Leigber, while his starter from last year, Austin Jones, who had transferred to USC, rushed for 154 yards against Notre Dame. If the Trojans beat Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game this week, Jones will play in the College Football Playoff.
Looking ahead, perhaps Shaw could envision more losing seasons, more transfers, more criticism, more pressure to fire his assistants, more time away from family, and more pressure to engage in the distasteful aspects of being a head coach in the NIL/transfer era.
Bill Walsh once told me, "you should only do this for 10 years. You have to know when it's time to get out."
David Shaw knew It was his time.
What's Next? As is its wont, Stanford will conduct a national search for Shaw's successor. I was on the search committee that hired Bill Walsh in December 1976, and I am proud that I cast the deciding vote to hire him. Walsh got one more vote than the other finalist, USC assistant Paul Hackett. I guess all four of us who voted for Walsh can claim to have cast the deciding vote, but I think I'm the only one still alive, so that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Anyway, the search begins now and hopefully Stanford will act quickly. If I were on the committee, my first call would be to former Washington and Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who left the Huskies three years ago, citing burnout, and has been enjoying his time as a TV analyst. I doubt he'd be interested, but it's definitely worth a shot. Hiring Petersen would be a home run.
Next calls would be to Sacramento State coach and former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor and the aforementioned Greg Roman, now the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator. Taylor led the Pac-10 in total offense in 1989 and set a number of Cal records. He coached Folsom HS to the state championship, then was a highly successful offensive coordinator at Eastern Washington and Utah. In three years at Sac State, he's posted a 29-7 record, including 11-0 this season. The last time we hired a Cal guy, John Ralston, it worked out pretty well.
Roman made a huge contribution during his two years at Stanford with Harbaugh. He is respected in both the NFL and college circles and is 50, same age as Shaw, without the head coach burnout.
Other candidates I'd consider include former BYU and Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, and former Stanford All-American wide receiver Troy Walters, now an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Mendenhall quit Virginia three years ago, but always has planned on a return to college coaching. Clawson has won everywhere he's been--Fordham, Richmond, Bowling Green and Wake...and it's not easy to win 10 or 11 games at those schools. Walters previously coached at Texas A&M, North Carolina State, Colorado, University of Central Florida and Nebraska.
One wild card would be South Carolina coach Shane Beamer. He's just scored major upsets over Tennessee and Clemson, and he learned from a master, his father Frank Beamer. It would be a long shot, but why not make the call?