Stanford Football, Giants, Raiders
by Glenn Dickey
Dec 20, 2006

JIM HARBAUGH is the right choice as the new Stanford football coach, but before he can bring the Cardinal program back, the Stanford academic and admissions people need to take a long look at what they want from Stanford football.

Bill Walsh enthusiastically endorsed the hiring of Harbaugh. “He reminds me of Dick Vermeil – except for his height,” said Walsh after yesterday’s press conference. But Walsh knows the problem at Stanford is that tightened admissions standards have made it almost impossible to get enough good football players for a Division 1-A school. In an April 25th column on this website, he warned that not only football but basketball and baseball were endangered by the stricter admissions policy.

Athletic director Bob Bowlsby said he had talked to 10-12 possible candidates but it’s hard to imagine a better qualified candidate than Harbaugh, given the special dimensions of the Stanford job. He is young – 43 on Saturday – and enthusiastic. He is not experienced at head coach on the Division 1A level but his years of experience as a top quarterback in the NFL certainly acquainted him with football played on the highest level.

He also comes from a coaching family, starting with his father, Jack, who was defensive coordinator for Stanford in the 1980 and ’81 seasons. His brother is also a coach and his sister is married to a coach. He also was very successful in his three years at the University of San Diego, with a 26-9 record.

Stanford needs a coach who can sell the school to recruits, and Harbaugh can certainly do that. He went to Palo Alto High, just across El Camino Real from Stanford, and worked at Stanford during the summers. He has a love for the school that is very real.

But even with his enthusiasm, Harbaugh faces a daunting task in recruiting, unless the school administration is willing to let more good players into school.

This isn’t a matter of compromising the school’s academic integrity. All that has to be done is to go back to the standards of the Tyrone Willingham era. Willingham had his ups and downs as the Cardinal coach but he was able to get in enough good players to get to the Rose Bowl.

Great universities shouldn’t be just about grades. There should also be room for good students with special skills, whether they be in music, student politics or athletics. But right now, Stanford seems to be locked in another one of those “Harvard of the West” spasms that periodically grip the school’s administration.

A half century ago, schools in the Ivy League decided to de-emphasize athletics. It works for them because there are a number of schools with similar academic goals within a relatively small geograpical area.

That’s not true for Stanford. Aside from the Ivy League, there are really only two schools with similar academic standards and weak football programs, Rice and Vanderbilt. (Rice is in a low level bowl this year but that’s an aberration.) Obviously, Stanford can’t form a league with them.

That would leave Stanford with the option of dropping into Division 1 or even Division 2 – at a time when they’ve just built a new football stadium. I doubt alumni would want to see that.

But it isn’t fair to either coaches or players to make them compete in the Pac-10 when they have no realistic chance of doing that.

Stanford should go back to the model that served it so well in the 20th century, with high admissions standards but not so high that they keep out almost all the top athletes.

Then, Harbaugh has a reasonable chance of bringing Stanford back to a competitive state, which would not only be good for Stanford but for the Bay Area and Pac-10 as a whole.

YOUTH MOVEMENT? Is it just me, or has Giants general manager Brian Sabean deliberately targeted every mid-30s player on the downside of his career?

Ryan Klesko is the latest. Klesko’s peak years were 2000-2002 when he had homer/RBI totals of 26-92, 30-113 and 29-95. Since then, it’s been all downhill. He hit only 48 homers in the next three seasons and his best RBI year was 67. He hit .291 in one of those years, but only .248 and .252 in the other two years. Last year, he missed almost the entire season because of a shoulder injury.

Is there anything in that resume to suggest he’s going to really help the Giants this season?

The other pattern in Sabean’s signings is recent years is his penchant for signing pitchers discarded by the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s worked so well with Brett Tomko and Matt Morris that he’ll probably find Jeff Suppan irrestible, even though Suppan, who will be 32 in two weeks, is a little young for this team.

RAIDERS WOES: It was ironic to see a video clip of Marcus Allen scoring the winning touchdown in a Rams-Raiders game from the ‘80s on the big screen at the Coliseum Sunday.

Allen was, of course, the big star for the Raiders at that time, MVP in the Super Bowl win in January, 1983, the toast of the town in Los Angeles, where he’d also won the Heisman Trophy with USC.

That celebrity status was his undoing. There is only one man who’s supposed to be the face of the Raiders, owner Al Davis. Soon, Davis ordered Allen benched, and the Raiders started on a decline which is gaining momentum every day, while Allen left for Kansas City as a free agent to continue his Hall of Fame career.

The negative numbers keep piling up for the Raiders. In the last 21 seasons, they’re a collective 11 games under .500. The most recent numbers are much worse: 2-12 this season, 15-47 for the last four seasons.

After the last mind-numbing loss, 20-0 to the St. Louis Rams, Davis insisted, “I’ll fix this. I always have.”

Take off the blinders, Al.

THE NEWEST CARDINAL: Michelle Wie showed this week that there’s much more to her than her golfing talent as she was admitted to Stanford and insisted she wants to graduate.

Wie has received a barrage of criticism for her decision to compete in men’s tournaments, but she’s a very determined young woman, and she has strong family backing behind her. I wish her well.

PERSONAL PLUG: For those of you who want to remember when the 49ers ruled the NFL, my book, “The San Francisco 49ers: The First 50 Years,” is available on I thoroughly enjoyed doing the book because I got some great stories from the players who made that history.

If you buy the book, it will not benefit me financially. I got a very good advance on that book which covers all sales. But I think you’d enjoy it.


Tickets are available for the Holiday Bowl and other bowl games on this link, as well as tickets for the 49ers, Raiders, Warriors and Sharks games.

Tickets are available for Jersey Boys, which just opened in San Francisco and runs through Feb. 11, and for Dancing With the Stars, Dec. 27.

During the holiday season, tickets will be available for Radio City Christmas and Wicked. Tickets are also available for the Bill Cosby concert in Phoenix on January 13.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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