- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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David Shaw has been the head coach at Stanford for two years, and I'm telling you, the guy doesn't know thing one about how to be a head coach.
Sure, he has gone 11-2 two seasons in a row, and the Cardinal won its first Pac-12 Conference championship in 13 years. OK, fine, he beat Oregon at Oregon. He turned USC into Stanford's lapdog (four in a row if you're counting at home, and trust me, every Cardinal fan is counting at home).
And yeah, Shaw switched quarterbacks at midseason and pinned Stanford's Rose Bowl hopes on a redshirt freshman, Kevin Hogan, who proceeded to beat four ranked conference opponents in four weeks.
But that has nothing to do with the art and science of being a head coach. You know, the guy who wins games and demands money. Says all the right things in public, while his agent holds the athletic director hostage. Goes to a recruiting dinner on Friday night and accepts a new job Saturday morning.
Shaw doesn't know the first thing about any of that. He's 40 years old, he's been a head coach for two years, and he somehow thought it appropriate to negotiate a new contract with Stanford by himself. Without his agent, but presumably with a "Kick me" sign taped to his back.
Does the American Football Coaches Association know about this? Are we talking reprimand?
"We were not going to be too far apart, and we didn't start too far apart," Shaw said of his negotiation with athletic director Bernard Muir. "It didn't take us too long to wrap it all up."
To quote another Stanford man, John McEnroe: "You cannot be serious!" Shaw missed the part of the coaching curriculum where the professor explained that schools no longer have loyalty, so the coach shouldn't have any, either.
Shaw coaches football from another era, a smashmouth, physical brand of football that looks like the Big Ten when Bo and Woody strode the sideline. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had a motto printed on every offensive playbook: "Pound 'em and score 50."
I'm never going to hold another job over Stanford and say, 'Hey, if you don't give me what I want, I'm going to go with the place that does. I don't negotiate like that. I've been telling you since the beginning that this is where I want to be.
--Stanford coach David Shaw
Shaw negotiates from another era, too. He loves Stanford. He trusts Stanford. It nurtured him as a boy, when his dad, Willie, did two tours of duty as an assistant. It transformed him into a man, when he played football and graduated with a degree in sociology. He got married in Memorial Church on the Stanford campus.
"I'm never going to hold another job over Stanford and say, 'Hey, if you don't give me what I want, I'm going to go with the place that does,'" Shaw said. "I don't negotiate like that. I've been telling you since the beginning that this is where I want to be."
Did I say trust? That's not trust. That's fantasy land.
"I have no problem saying that, if I was any place else in America, I would completely turn it over to my agent and we would have done the whole dance that a lot of other people do," Shaw said. "But Stanford's special to me. This was going to work. We were going to make this work. Even in the back of my mind, being an alum, I couldn't imagine turning the program over to anybody else. I wouldn't want to put it in anyone else's hands."
Former athletic director Bob Bowlsby promoted Shaw two years ago when Jim Harbaugh left Stanford to become the San Francisco 49ers head coach. Bowlsby said a group of four players, including quarterback Andrew Luck and linebacker Shayne Skov, came to him and told him they wanted Shaw to be their head coach.
Skov described Shaw as "a guy who understands what we're going through. He has a keen sense of concern for the guys on the team. He knows when to push us and when to step off the gas a little. Stanford presents its own difficulties and hurdles. He just jumps over one after the other."
You could make the case that Shaw took the Cardinal to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in 2011 because he didn't have to push many buttons, not with a once-in-a-generation quarterback. After last season, Bowlsby encouraged Shaw not to be so conservative.
But if you make that case, you must acknowledge that Shaw pushed one correct button after another in 2012. He wrung all he could out of Josh Nunes, the redshirt junior who led No. 21 Stanford to its 21-14 upset of No. 2 USC in Week 3. But 12 days later, Nunes and Stanford lost at Washington. By November, Shaw had benched Nunes in favor of Hogan.
For those Cardinal fans who think Hogan could have turned around the losses at Washington and at Notre Dame, Shaw said, "Kevin ran one play against Washington and read it wrong, which is why he didn't get a second play."
When Hogan proved on the practice field that he could play, he got more time on Saturday. The same went for the true freshmen in the offensive line and in the secondary who played a lot of minutes this season. Asked to point out how he grew as a head coach from his rookie season to this, Shaw pointed out the trust -- there's that word again -- he had in his staff.
Shaw resisted the urge he would have once had to work with Hogan himself. When defensive coordinator Derek Mason wanted to play the entire second-team defense as a unit against Arizona's uptempo offense, Shaw bought into it. The Cardinal won that game 54-48 in overtime after coming back from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter.
Failed defensive tactic? Hardly. In the fourth quarter, the defense had its legs.
"If you really look at how we beat Arizona," Shaw said, "we had to get three straight stops. We had to stop them, get the ball, score. Stop them, get the ball, score. Overtime, get a stop, score."
By the time Stanford played Oregon six weeks later, the Cardinal's second-team defense had enough experience to come in as a unit and help hold the Ducks to 14 points, 43 below their season average.
"And I'm sure there are still people out there who would say I'm still too conservative," Shaw said. "The thing with me is I'm the son of a defensive coordinator. I'm going to make the practical decisions that I think are right for us to make. I'm not a riverboat gambler."
That is clear by the way Shaw negotiates. Here's a guy who pays sticker price. Here's a guy who shows all his cards. When Stanford announced the contract extension last week, Shaw said he wanted to be there long enough to see his three kids graduate. One of them is a toddler.
"Went to school here. Bled on that field," offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren said. "I think this place really has his heart and soul. It's so easy for him in recruiting to tell kids what their experience is going to be like and what he loves about this place. It's from the heart. It's no sell. He's telling you how he feels."
Since 1971, Stanford has had four head coaches -- John Ralston, Bill Walsh, Dennis Green and Jim Harbaugh -- leave to become NFL head coaches. Only one -- Tyrone Willingham -- has left for another college head coaching job. The pipeline to Sunday is there. The guy who hired Shaw doesn't believe the NFL will turn Shaw's head.
"He knows what the NFL is and he knows what it isn't," Bowlsby said. " I wouldn't presume to know what he's thinking about that, but I know he's dyed in the wool of Stanford. He loves the kind of kids you get to coach at Stanford. In the end, David is a teacher and a really good one. I guess maybe he thinks you get to do more teaching at a college job. My sense is he's going to be there awhile."
David Shaw has exhibited a keen understanding of the art and science of being a head coach in his two seasons in charge at Stanford. It's the other elements inherent to big-time college coaching that seem to escape him. And that's what made him so successful in Palo Alto.