When Shaw Says No to NFL, Believe Him

Some coaches can’t be trusted when they say they don’t want to leave for other jobs. Is David Shaw one of those coaches?

Word on the street is that David Shaw wants to stay at Stanford. I believe it.

Firing season is rapidly approaching in pro football, but ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Shaw is not interested in pursuing any potential job openings. Although Shaw is seen in some circles as the college coach who is most ready-made for the pros, Schefter’s sources say that Shaw loves working with the student-athletes, loves coaching his alma mater, and is not planning on coaching on Sundays any time soon.

Normally, I’d meet news like that with a pair of rolled eyes and a healthy bit of skepticism. Why not? Some are far more sincere than others, but it’s difficult to believe much of what your friendly neighborhood head football coach says on the record. That’s especially true when the subject turns to someone else’s job opening.

Let’s face it, how many times have fans heard a head coach insist that he’s staying put, that his family likes it here, that he would never leave, and that this is his dream job…then promptly go home to call the moving trucks and head off to his next gig?

We’ve seen that movie before. Heck, I had a front row seat for that movie myself a few years ago. I dealt with Todd Graham while he was at Pitt. I’ve got stories, man.

But when it comes to the story of David Shaw saying he’s staying, I believe it. Yes, I know that a coach reportedly spurning the NFL or other college jobs higher up on the food chain screams “caveat emptor” loud and clear. But I’m buying what Shaw is reportedly selling.

Although I’ve talked to Shaw on numerous occasions, I’m not even going to pretend to know what his ultimate endgame is and what he thinks his shelf life at Stanford might be. But I would imagine that—right now--Shaw is very happy on The Farm. And I know that—right now—The Farm is very happy with him. Shaw gets Stanford, and he has a chance to build upon a program that has become a Pac-12 power. So why would he leave?

Then again, I remember saying many of the same things about Tyrone Willingham in December 2001.

You remember that month. Notre Dame was looking for a new head coach, and they sniffed around Willingham before hiring George O’Leary. Unfortunately, O’Leary’s résumé didn’t pass a more thorough smell test. Next thing you knew, Tyrone was spending New Year’s Day 2002 at the podium in South Bend greeting the media as Notre Dame’s new head coach.

It was shocking at the time, but less surprising the more I thought about it. One, when Notre Dame calls, you answer. It was true then, and it’s still true now. Even if they are still grossly overrated as a football team.

Two, I think Tyrone felt that he had taken Stanford Football as far as it could go. Before BCS bowls became a staple for the Cardinal, that 2001 team was unquestionably one of the best in school history. They finished ninth in the final BCS rankings that year.

Stanford’s reward for such a great season? The Seattle Bowl. Ted Leland, the Cardinal's athletic director at the time, called that "a slap in the face." I think that as Willingham looked around the college football landscape in 2001, he saw that Stanford Football had a glass ceiling. There is no glass ceiling at Notre Dame. (thankfully, there also seems to be no more glass ceiling at Stanford, either…)

So while I believe the reports that David Shaw is telling the NFL not to come knock on his door, I also fully realize that things change. Sometimes you get an offer that you can’t refuse. That’s why, when the opportunity presents itself, most coaches take the chance to climb that ladder. Sure, some feelings might get hurt in the process. But at the end of the day, coaches have their own families to think about, too.

Accordingly, I don’t think that Shaw is going to be at Stanford forever. Again, things change. Coaching is a business where there can be next to zero security, even when you get the results. Sounds like some other industries I can think of.

The days of a head coach staying around for twenty years are largely over. When Mike Riley left Oregon State, Shaw became the second longest-tenured head coach in Pac-12 football. Shaw just finished his fourth year running the show, by the way. That tells you everything you need to know.

But while most coaches are merely mercenaries, their job is always to win games. Winning games means more school spirit. More school spirit means more alumni donations. More school spirit also means more applications from incoming freshmen. More alumni donations and more applications mean more money. For the school, for the athletic department, for (almost) everyone. This is why it’s so important to beat State on Saturday.

David Shaw has done that at Stanford. He’s not perfect. No coach is. But right now, Stanford and Shaw still seem to be a good fit for each other. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for either side to end things.

It’s like I’ve said before: the cost of coaching is going up, and the chance of coaching is going down. But sometimes, the chance to coach in the NFL isn’t worth the cost to make the leap from college. If David Shaw doesn’t believe that, all he needs to do is talk to the last Stanford head coach to jump to the pros. And Shaw had better catch that guy before he jumps on the coaching carousel next week.

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