David Shaw/Jim Harbaugh/Jim Mora; Jeff Tedford; Marvin Miller; Dennis Allen/Reggie McKenzie; Brian Wilson
DAVID SHAW is a quiet man but in his way, he’s done as good a job as Jim Harbaugh, his predecessor as Stanford coach. In recognition, he was named Pac-12 coach of the year this week, beating out Jim Mora, who led a remarkable turnaround at UCLA. (BTW, the most ridiculous question of the year and maybe the decade came from the guy who asked Mora if he deliberately tried to lose to Stanford so he wouldn’t have to play Oregon in the conference championship game. Mora was so flabbergasted by the question he didn’t know what to say. He should have told the guy to get another job.)
Harbaugh did a remarkable job of resurrecting a Stanford program that had hit bottom with Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris, culminating in a 1-11 season in 2006. With Andrew Luck as his quarterback, Harbaugh eventually took the Cardinal to a win in the Orange Bowl, before he accepted the 49ers job.
Harbaugh took two assistants with him, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, both of whom have done outstanding jobs with the 49ers. Shaw remained behind, probably by his decision because he had played for Stanford and welcomed the chance to coach for his alma mater.
His first year, he still had Luck, who is probably the best of the Stanford quarterbacks I’ve seen, starting with John Brodie. John Elway was the most physically gifted, but he had an uneven collegiate career, probably because he was stuck with a bad coach. Elway often thought he could make something out of nothing. If a play didn’t materialize as planned, he’d circle around, going deeper and deeper. Sometimes, he was still able to make a spectacular play – the best example is that long touchdown pass to Ken Margerium over Ronnie Lott in Stanford’s loss to USC – but other times, he’d eventually get tackled for a big loss.
Luck is a much different quarterback. Though he’s a good athlete who could run when necessary and even caught a pass himself, he stayed within himself, playing very efficiently and very successfully. Whether he’ll be as good in the NFL as Elway was remains to be determined but he’s certainly off to a good start. What can’t be questioned is that his Stanford teams were much more successful than Elway’s, and that makes me rank him above Elway as a college quarterback.
When Luck left as the No. 1 pick in the draft, as Elway had been earlier, it seemed Stanford’s success might be diminished, but in some ways, this season has been even better than Luck’s last season. They’ve lost only twice this season and one of those losses was because of a terrible officiating call in overtime at Notre Dame when the officials decided they didn’t want to take a chance on getting out alive by giving Stanford the touchdown that Stepfan Taylor had obviously scored. If Notre Dame finishes as No. 1, it should come with a huge asterisk.
The most significant win was over the Oregon Ducks in Eugene at the loudest football stadium in the Pac-12. The Cardinal defense shut down the Ducks rapid-fire offense in a way nobody thought was possible. There was no letdown last Saturday, either, as they rolled over UCLA at the Rose Bowl. They need to beat UCLA again in the showdown between the North and South division winners, and this one will be at Stanford. A win in that game will put the Cardinal into the Rose Bowl.
It’s been true for a long time that successful coaches at Stanford understand the culture, which is quite different than at other schools. Shaw had a head start on that because he played there. But it takes more than just that, as Paul Wiggin proved.
Shaw is a real coach. He was able to get his team past the awful experience at Notre Dame, and he’s made some important decisions along the way. He started the season with Josh Nunes at quarterback, and Nunes was decent but redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan obviously had more talent, so Shaw made the switch, seven games into the season. Now, he’s set there for another two years, after which Hogan will undoubtedly turn pro – and be a very high draft pick.
Shaw is certainly a much different coach than Harbaugh, who is super competitive, even when the only competition is the media. Shaw seems to get along with everybody, but his way is working as well at Stanford as Harbaugh’s did.
ONE OF the factors in Jeff Tedford’s firing was that Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour had no emotional tie to him because she didn’t hire him. Her predecessor, Steve Gladstone, with the help of then assistant AD Mark Stephens did. And, Gladstone cut through all the b.s. around Tedford’s firing and said it was all about what was happening, or not happening, on the football field, not the low graduation rates.
Soon, Barbour is also going to be in that exposed position. She was hired by the current chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, who is leaving next spring. The new chancellor will have no allegiance to her, so she’d better make the right decision. It won’t be easy. Cal fans who have been outraged at Tedford’s $2.3 million yearly pay should know that’s low compared to what coaches at the real football schools get, often in the $4-5 million range.
And yes, I think that’s ridiculous. Winning football programs used to finance other sports which do not make much money, if any. That’s no longer true because head coaches get too much money, staffs have expanded greatly and everybody has to have the latest in practice facilities. That’s why colleges are so desperate for TV money that they allow TV to dictate their schedules, often at the expense of those going to games. Soon, college football is going to be a studio game for all schools outside those located in small cities where it is the main, sometimes only, attraction during the week.
Two other points have been brought up by readers that I’d like to discuss:
1) Why can Stanford field a winning team while graduating 90 per cent of its football players while Cal is losing with a low graduation rate this year?
Because the schools have totally different approaches.
Cal is a large, public university with a high in-state enrollment and which uses high school GPAs as an important part of the evaluation of incoming students. Those GPAs in California are often inflated but the university has a “sink or swim” philosophy, so many of those who do not really belong (not just athletes) flunk out.
In contrast, Stanford is a small, private university which now has an international student body. When I talked to Stanford admissions people 20 years ago they said they based their standards much more on SATs than GPAs, especially with the California schools. Their admission standards are very high, but once students get into school, there is every effort to see that they graduate. Classes are small and all students have to stay in dorms as freshman. If you compared overall graduation rates for Cal and Stanford, I’m sure there would always be a higher percentage of the entire student bodies for each school.
Both approaches have their pluses and minuses, but comparing them for athletes is always going to be apples and oranges.
2) Why can Cal win national championships in sports like swimming and gymnastics but not in football.
That one is easy: Because there’s no professional component. High school football players look for schools which give them the best chance of playing in the NFL. Swimmers and gymnasts look primarily for schools which give them the best education. That’s also the reason the women athletes have much higher overall graduation rates than the men. My wife would say it’s because they’re smarter, and maybe they are.
It’s always going to be difficult for Cal to have consistent football success. All you have to do is look at what has happened since World War II. Blaming the decline in the last three years on Tedford is ridiculous. One reader told me that he didn’t see how this history was relevant to the present. A much wiser man than I, George Santayana, said it best: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.
MARVIN MILLER, a man who changed baseball more than anybody, died at 95 yesterday, still unrecognized by the Hall of Fame. Some think that’s because owners resented Miller but those who run the Hall of Fame are reactionary enough to do this on their own. This is the group that has honored former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who told the owners that they were protected by the reserve clause and found other business to attend to when Hank Aaron was breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record.
Miller was a very smart man. When free agency was made possible by an arbiter’s decision which ruled the reserve clause applied to only one year, not perpetuity, he feared the owners would follow Charlie Finley’s idea and make every player a free agent, thus establishing true market value. Instead, they put in rules limiting the number of free agents, which drove salaries higher and higher to their current level.
The owners blamed Miller for that, not themselves, but in the long run, they’re making more money than ever. Oldtimers say the increased player movement has hurt the game, but what they’re really saying is that it’s not the same as when they were young. The younger fans don’t object. Ticket prices have risen to what I would have thought earlier would be absurd levels but again, the ticket buyers aren’t complaining. We’ve seen the Giants set attendance records and the A’s were doing well, too, until Lew Wolff made conscious efforts to hold attendance down.
In fact, I’d say the only trouble with baseball now is that there’s so much money, that a really bad owner like Wolff can remain because revenue sharing makes the A’s profitable even though Wolff is trying not to win. Sorry about last year, Lew.
THE BAD NEWS for Alex Smith is that he’s apparently lost his starting job. The good news is that he won’t suffer further brain damage.
In the bad old days, coaches (and writers) talked about a player “getting his bell rung” when he suffered a hard blow to the head. If Alex had been playing 20 years ago, he’d undoubtedly have started the next game.
Law suits by former players who were not treated for concussion damage have forced the NFL to treat concussions seriously. Of course, neither the league nor the players union will admit the real problem: Steroids by which players have built up their bodies so they are bigger and faster, resulting in more damaging collisions. The media and fans have concentrated on steroids use in baseball, where players are not hurt by it, because they have an unreasonable obsession with records, while ignoring the much more serious problem in the NFL.
DUH RAIDERS: The downturn continued last week in Cincinnati in a very curious game. In the first half, the Raiders were as inept, offensively and defensively, as a team can be. In the second half, they turned it around and seemed to be getting back into the game until they were derailed by two officiating calls that made it seem the replacement officials had returned.
The turnaround came in part because Carson Palmer gave an impassioned speech at halftime, but it does make you wonder why that kind of speech had to be made before the Raiders could play hard. That’s what professionals are supposed to do all the time.
Is it the fault of the coaches, especially the head coach, that they don’t. Some of my colleagues think so and there have been “Fire Allen” columns for weeks. As I’ve written before, it’s impossible to judge a coach when he has a bad team. That’s especially true for a coach in his first season.
The key person in this drama is still general manager Reggie McKenzie. In his time with the Packers, McKenzie was known for his ability to spot talent in the draft, particularly in the lower rounds. That’s going to be very important and not just with the draft. Every year there are players who are not drafted who are signed after the draft and become solid players. I expect McKenzie to hit that market hard, too.
As much as talent, he needs to find players with a winning attitude, something that has been missing for some time with the Raiders. McKenzie has done his best to clean out the players who are talented but don’t play every down, but some still survive. Hello, Tommy Kelly and Rolando McClain.
And, you can add Richard Seymour to that list. Seymour, coming off the injury list, has been possibly the most overrated player in the league since he came to the Raiders, living off his reputation in New England, where Bill Belichick didn’t accept anything but top effort. Those demands haven’t been there for Seymour with the Raiders and he’s done a lot of posturing, not to mention committing stupid personal fouls at critical times. Last week, he found another way to torpedo his team, giving an interview in which he praised former coach Hue Jackson (now an assistant with the Bengals) at some length. This is the same Jackson who blamed the players for the late season collapse. I guess Seymour missed that.
When the Raiders returned to Oakland, the team was loaded with overpaid underproducers. When Jon Gruden took over as coach, he cleaned out the roster – fighting Al Davis every step of the way – and turned the Raiders into winners. That lasted only one season after his departure and the Raiders plunged into a deep hole.
It will take time for McKenzie to repair the damage Davis did in his last few years and it will take great patience from Raiders fans. But this is the only way it can be done. There is no quick fix.
BRIAN WILSON reportedly is unhappy with the Giants for offering him a relatively low salary with many performance incentives. Though he didn’t pitch at all last season and there is no evidence that he can return to his previous form, he wants a lucrative, guaranteed contract. He must think he’s dealing with Brian Sabean.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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