Leland Stein III

Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

Stanford’s Shaw runs into MSU’s Green Wall

In sports column on January 4, 2014 at 8:49 am
Still, Stanford coach quietly making history.
Leland Stein III
By Leland Stein III
PASADENA, Ca. – “There’s no such thing as carry-over,” Stanford University head coach, David Shaw, told reporters before leading his team to its second consecutive Rose Bowl. “We’re not going to win this game because we won last year.”
Oh how right Shaw’s interjection proved to be; however, even this gut-wrenching 24-20 loss to Michigan State University in the 100th Rose Bowl cannot take away from the noteworthy run he has implemented as head coach at Stanford.
Shaw assumed the head coaching mantle from Jim Harbaugh in 2011, after serving as the team’s offensive coordinator for Harbaugh’s entire tenure from 2007 to 2010.
By all accounts coming into the 2014 Rose Bowl game, he found himself high on the coaching list as almost every vacant position in the NFL and college had his name high on the most wanted list.
David Shaw’s rise as a sought after head coach on the rise in spite of loss to MSU. - Robert Attical photo

David Shaw’s rise as a sought after head coach on the rise in spite of loss to MSU. – Robert Attical photo

And with good reason, he led Stanford to its first Rose Bowl victory since 1972 when he piloted the Cardinal to a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in 2013. In 2000, then Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham became the first African American to lead a team to the Rose Bowl, but Shaw took it a step further making history, silently becoming the first African-American coach to win the Rose Bowl or a BCS Game.

Stanford is 54-13 over the last five seasons, including four straight appearances in BCS bowl games. Shaw has helmed three of the BCS appearances, leading the Cardinal to 11-3, 13-2 and 11-3 seasons.
Shaw guided Stanford in 2012 to its first Pac-12 Championship in 13 years, and repeated the feat again in 2013.
“This is the most accomplished group of football players to ever go through Stanford University,” Shaw said of the seniors in the post-game interviews. “Regardless of today’s outcome, that’s just the truth. That’s a fact. When you talk about the best teams of the BCS era, you have to mention Stanford University. Four straight BCS games, 11 wins four straight years. It’s rare, rare company.”
I heard many of my colleagues talking after the game in the press box, that Shaw blew any chance to win by insisting on running the football right at Michigan State in two crucial fourth down situations.
In the third quarter, the score tied, 17-17, Stanford found itself in a fourth-and-three at Michigan State’s 36. The ball was handed to Tyler Gaffney, who lost three yards.
Next, in the fourth quarter with 1:46 left and the game still in doubt, trailing by four points, Stanford was on its own 34 in a fourth and one situation. Shaw blasted 246-pound Ryan Hewitt into the Spartan Green & White Wall. He gained zero yards. State took over the ball and it was game, set, match.
The prevailing thought is that Shaw should have run outside or passed the football.
I’m in the minority on this, but I’m from the Vince Lombardi School here. Stanford with one of the best offensive lines and running games in college, should have been able to gain one yard with a 250 pound back.
“I told the guys, we had one heck of a year, and got beat today,” Shaw acknowledged. “They played better. They made more plays. That’s the bottom line. You know that every time you suit up, it’s about who makes the most plays and who scores the most points. They played a great game. They slowed us down on offense. They made enough plays on their offensive side and beat us by four points. We got beat today by a really good football team”
MSU's Aaron Burbridge (#16) battle for the ball with DB Wayne Lyons. Robert Attical - photo

MSU’s Aaron Burbridge (#16) battle for the ball with DB Wayne Lyons. Robert Attical – photo

A two-time Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year (2011 & 2012), plus Shaw’s nine years as an assistant in the NFL, has thrust his name into conversations about open NFL and college jobs.

Yet after the loss to a 13-1 MSU team ranked No. 4, the naysayers were singing in vocal harmony that Shaw may not be what they thought he was: “He is stubborn and unimaginative and didn’t make good adjustments to the MSU’s defensive scheme.”
When a coach believes in his team, what they have trained for all year, and, their ability to execute, then for me, it is not hard to see why he made the calls he has made.
A four-year letter winner at Stanford from 1991-94 as a receiver, learning and playing under two great coaches (Bill Walsh and Denny Green), having a Dad, Willie Shaw, that coached in college and NFL for 33 years . . . I exclaim that Shaw has not lost his luster over two calls.
And let’s not forget Shaw coached up 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart, and 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck.
Instead of unloading on Shaw, maybe it was just MSU and its No. 1 ranked defense that should get all the credit. No team has really been able to crack the Green Wall or consistently throw over it.
When Shaw replaced Harbaugh, I, like many, said, “Nice little run for Stanford, now they will just disappear into the PAC-12 middle pack.” But hold on wait a minute let me put a little Shaw in it. The “in it” refers to Shaw finding a way to get into the heads, hearts and spirits of the players that have come under his tutelage over the past three years.
He’s been able to sell on his team the “David vs. Goliath mentality,” despite recent success. “We haven’t cemented ourselves in the football world’s psyche as much as we should have,” he exclaimed. “There’s always the idea that we’re going to slide.”
The Stanford grad is losing a great senior class, but my guess is he has put the Cardinal on the football map where brainy football players can come together in a great environment, but win football game while studying too.
Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII