Winning is contagious, well at least at the farm it is. The once downtrodden Stanford Cardinal have just played in their fourth consecutive BCS bowl game, not bad for a team that could barely muster one win before Jim Harbaugh came to town. Not only are the Cardinal winning, but they are doing it with student athletes that can fit in with their fellow “nerds” at Stanford. Unlike their east bay rivals the Cal Bears, Stanford is graduating all of their players and haven’t had a hint of trouble from the NCAA.
“Holy Cow! It’s unbelievable, all of a sudden we became a top ten team in the nation and we are still graduating and doing well academically, it’s truly amazing,” said Peter from the class of 1986 during the Rose Bowl tailgate.
The winning ways were supposed to fade into the books once Harbaugh decided to bolt to the San Francisco 49ers. However, David Shaw has led the Cardinal to three straight BCS games including two Rose Bowl game appearances in a row. You must remember that Shaw has had Kevin Hogan as his quarterback during the last two seasons which is definitely a tough task to do. Yes, Stanford blew their chance to win their second Rose Bowl in a row but that does not take away the fact that they are one of the elite teams in the nation.
“The football culture stunk when I was there but it all changed when Jim Harbaugh came to Stanford,” explained Joe Peetman a graduate of Stanford in 1956.
Stanford will have to remake their offensive identity next year because they will be losing star running back Tyler Gaffney. Don’t be surprised to see Stanford run a more pass oriented offense with Hogan, Cajuste, Montgomery, Rector and Sanders returning to the team next year. No longer will the Cardinal be able to run Harbaugh’s power run scheme as effectively with a small running back like Barry J. Sanders. We all saw how David Shaw refused to change his offensive philosophy against Michigan State, but he will have to learn how to run a different type of offense in coming years.
“I am really impressed with David Shaw. When Stanford just hired Shaw a lot of us were quite concerned that they just hired the offensive coordinator and they kind of punted on the deal but I think they did the right thing,” exclaimed Dustin Barfield a Stanford graduate of 2012. “They brought in a guy who knew the program and actually knows the school because he was a Stanford athlete and Stanford student. He has done everything that Harbaugh has done and even more.”
For the first time in his career, Shaw has faced backlash because of his offensive play-calling in the Cardinal’s Rose Bowl loss. That doesn’t mean that Shaw isn’t a hot commodity in the football coaching world. There were rumors circulating that Shaw could have had the head coaching job at the University of Texas. Shaw would have certainly had his fair share of NFL suitors as well.
“I go to the University of Texas and we are actively looking for a head coach and David Shaw showed no interesting in taking our head coach position. Shaw has showed that he is dedicated to the program,” said a candid Daniel Barfield, a student at the University of Texas who was supporting the Cardinal at the Rose Bowl.
There is still a negative connotation that goes with being a Stanford Cardinal football player, especially after the Jonathan Martin saga that happened in the NFL. Pundits from around the nation were calling Stanford football players soft because they were considered nerds who could not grind on the football field. Obviously, those pundits have not watched a Stanford game over the last five years. In many big games this year, the Cardinal basically beat up the other team on both sides of the ball. Tyler Gaffney would just bulldoze his way through opposing defenders, while Ryan Hewitt blew open holes form him with pancake blocks. The Cardinal probably had one of the top front sevens in the nation, with Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, AJ Tarpley, and Josh Mauro having a party in the backfield multiple times a game.
David Shaw has done a great job at continuing the tradition of being a student first athlete at Stanford. Many of Shaw’s players have embraced the “Nerd Nation” mantra brought upon them. Unlike most schools, a lightning fast 40-yard dash or a highlight ridden game tape won’t necessarily make you a prime candidate at the farm. All Cardinal players have to have high SAT scores and they are expected to excel at completing the rigorous coursework that their fellow Stanford classmates are doing. In terms of being a student athlete, there is no better school at excelling at both than the halls nestled in Palo Alto.
“David Shaw’s legacy is just starting. I know coach Shaw gets a little frustrated with this question. When he started everyone said that he was just following in the footsteps of a great coach. I think after a couple of years he has proven how great of a fit for Stanford he really is,” said Eric Newton a Stanford graduate in 2013.
One of the biggest challenges for David Shaw and the Cardinal is to continue to build a rabid fan base in the Bay Area. The Cardinal play in one of the few corners of the country that really does not care about college football. Not only do the Cardinal have to compete with the San Jose State Spartans and California Golden Bears for college football views, but the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders rule the football scene in California.
“It’s difficult because we are in a weird corner of the country and we have only 7000 undergrads graduating each year. Our undergrads are a lot more interested in engineering and curing cancer than they are in football,” said Dustin Barfield. “I will say that at my time at Stanford, the fan base has flowered. When I got there it was easy enough to walk into any game, including Oregon and USC games. And now the school is trying to make programs that will make it fair for all students to try and get into the game.”
It remains to be seen what type of legacy David Shaw will have at Stanford. Shaw was clearly out-coached by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio at the Rose Bowl this year. Not only did Shaw make some head-scratching play calls in the fourth quarter but he did not seem to make many adjustments at half time. Stanford has continued to have one of the top recruiting classes in the Pac-12 under Shaw, so the Cardinal won’t be without talent in coming years. The Cardinal have a power run identity under Shaw, but that doesn’t mean that the Cardinal should just settle for running the ball exclusively. In order for the Cardinal to take the next step in their quest for a National Championship, Shaw must find a way to get more creative on offense. If Shaw can turn the Cardinal into a perennial National Championship contender without Harbaugh players, he will continue to cement his own legacy as one of the greatest coaches in Stanford Cardinal history.