- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is what happens. You get good, and then the getting gets good for other teams to come in and start picking off assistant coaches.
Stanford is no exception. It happened last year with the head coach. And another successful season means another round of the coaching carousel.
The fact that co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver left the Cardinal after just one year to return to the NFL is no real shock. He's one of the brightest defensive minds in football and his star is on the rise. There are only 32 defensive coordinator gigs in the NFL -- and when one of them opens up, you have to take it. If it were a lateral move to another college team, you might scratch your head. But none of that is needed with Tarver. Great move for him and a validation for David Shaw for hiring him in the first place.
So where does this leave the Cardinal -- specifically that monster front seven we've been chatting about since the end of the season? Tarver's is a beautiful mind -- and not just in the football sense. The guy is smart. There probably aren't a lot of other NFL defensive coordinators who have masters degrees in molecular biology and biochemistry from UCLA hanging on their office wall.
What he brought to Stanford was an unbelievable understanding of the 3-4 defense. In the decade prior to his time on The Farm, Tarver learned every strand, strain, wrinkle and wiggle there is to know about the scheme from some of the best defensive minds in the NFL.
At Stanford, he worked directly with the inside linebackers and deserves a ton of credit for the rapid development of Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley from good prospects to legitimate Pac-12 starters.
Without a doubt, losing Tarver is a blow. But if Stanford is anything, it's resilient. Wasn't the team supposed to lose its swagger once Jim Harbaugh left? Remember how the run defense was shot after Shayne Skov went down? Wasn't recruiting going to decline once Andrew Luck was gone?
From a game-planning perspective, little will change with Tarver's departure. Co-defensive coordinator Derek Mason (who we can only assume is running the show solo until otherwise told), will continue to install the game plan with the direct input from Lance Anderson, Randy Hart and an inside linebackers coach to be named later. (And don't be surprised either to see Mason's name popping up for head-coaching gigs either in the future).
In extensive conversations with Tarver during the season, one of the things he always made clear was that every week it was a collaborative effort, and every week there was something in the defensive game plan from each contributing coach.
Mason is not a micro-manager, and that's why he works so well with Anderson, Hart and Tarver. Now a quarter of that brain trust will be missing, but it will be replaced.
Where the real impact will be felt is teaching technique and installing the front seven's schemes. Tarver was very good at implementing the same blitz or stunt out of several different looks in the front seven -- and then tweaking it each week based on the opponent. As he often said, it allowed the defense to play faster without having to think slower.
Mason, Hart and Anderson are all fantastic coaches in their own right with an unquestioned wealth of knowledge. But none has the next-level experience of 10 years in the The League that Tarver brought -- the last five specifically working with linebackers in an NFL 3-4 scheme.
Because of who remains on staff, Tarver's departure doesn't make or break the Stanford defense. But whoever comes in has some big brains to fill.