Last week, we saw a flurry of activity and information to get us rolling on the Stanford Football head coaching search rollercoaster. That activity petered out toward the end of the week as several of the top candidates were not going to be very available for interviews until after this past Saturday's final regular season college football games. We are now beginning Week Two of the search, and we activity is accelerating.
While I am not comfortable in naming him as the foremost leader for Stanford's next football head coach, there is more activity and information at my disposal about Norm Chow right now than any other candidate. Stanford Athletic Director Ted Leland reportedly went to Southern California Sunday to meet with the USC offensive coordinator. Chow reported to the media Monday that he is coming up to Stanford on Wednesday to interview on campus with Leland and the search committee.
This is the natural progression you expect to see for Stanford, or most any school, in moving forward with a favored coaching candidate. Candidates do not come onto campus to interview unless and until they are in the late (read: final) stages of the process. While Cardinalmaniacs™ have been antsy for a new head coach ever since we broke the news to you a week ago Sunday that Buddy Teevens was out, there is another and more powerful motivating factor that has Leland working to bring his top candidates on campus this week. If you look at the Stanford academic calendar, you will note that autumn quarter final exams began Monday and run through Friday. Students have plane tickets booked to bring them home as soon as they close their last Blue Book, and many will be done with finals before Friday. All on-campus housing closes at the end of this week, which will turn the campus into something of a ghost town come next Monday.
Leland had a meeting with the rising senior class on the Stanford Football team this past week to discuss a number of issues related to this coaching search. Most all of those points have been kept confidential, but we know that Leland wants to have the seniors involved in this process. How formal or informal it may be, the 2005 seniors will preferably interview final candidates on campus as part of the evaluation. Their input is uniquely valuable because this class, minus Julian Jenkins and T.J. Rushing, were in their redshirt years when Tyrone Willingham left and Teevens was hired. These rising fifth-year seniors have seen two head coaches at The Farm, and as such they can bring an invaluable player's perspective about what characteristics they want and do not want for Stanford student-athletes.
It is also important to note that this rising senior class has made a wise and mature decision as a group that could go a long way toward the success of the 2005 Stanford season. They have made a firm commitment that they will fully embrace whoever is hired as their next head coach - without exception. This class in their first two years saw the destruction that was wrought by too many of the seniors who actively fought against Teevens in his transition. The 2005 seniors know that they are the biggest losers if they give even tepid support to the upcoming transition. This next fall is their last chance to do something great in a Cardinal uniform, after three straight years of losing records. These rising seniors want to set a firm and wholeheartedly warm tone for the entire team, recognizing the wealth of talent returning on both sides of the ball and the opportunity to win a lot of games right away.
This being said, the players will be careful in scrutinizing any candidate they interview on campus. All reports say that the first such interaction will take place Wednesday when Chow comes to town. The players will be valuable as they probe his demeanor and communication. It has been well publicized that Chow has a muted or dry personality, and it is a question mark if he can run the gamut of emotions and leadership styles necessary to pilot a ship of 100 student-athletes through thick and thin. One other critical area of assessment is how Chow might play with recruits. The unique academic restrictions that Stanford faces with their admissions process for football and all sports is one of the keen areas of focus for Ted Leland. You can argue that recruiting acumen is indeed one of the greatest reasons that Leland hired Teevens three years ago at this time.
We have done some preliminary research on our own, and have checked in with a handful of current Stanford players who say they were recruited by Chow at USC. Each of those players stated firmly that they felt Chow was a very effective recruiter who communicated well and worked hard. They gave a vote of confidence on the recruiting front.
If these areas all check out, though, it is not a given that Norm Chow will be the next head coach for Stanford. BYU, where Chow was an assistant for 27 years, is now making a concerted push to bring him back as their next head coach. By now you have read all about the less than amicable split the two made a few years ago, including a surprising and hurtful snub as Gary Crowton was selected over Chow to succeed LaVell Edwards when the legendary Cougar coach retired. Chow spoke out last week when Crowton was fired and said he had no interest in the BYU job, but The Bootleg has learned from a pair of very credible sources that BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe is making impressive in-roads with Chow. Holmoe and other Provo powers are furiously working to smooth over the rough patches and build new bridges that could bring the renowned offensive mind back to town.
It was reported by some newspapers that BYU and Holmoe have tendered an offer to Chow, but we cannot confirm that and are suspicious. Another key player and great competitor for the Cougard coaching position is Kyle Whittingham, the Utah defensive coordinator. Utah has already produced two other head coaches in the last few days, with head coach Urban Meyer taking the Florida Job and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford taking the UNLV job. Whittingham is currently caught between both Utah and BYU, who are both reportedly making serious pushes with him.
If BYU does rank Chow as their top target and do make him an offer, that should not necessarily frighten the Stanford community. BYU does not have a reputation as a big spender for coaching salaries, and they indeed could be one of the lesser threats on the West Coast in this dimension for Stanford.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves in exploring a possible bidding contest for Chow. Though we believe that the man is one of the top two candidates for Ted Leland right now, credible information suggests that Chow might be a slight second behind Pittsburgh head coach Walt Harris. The Panthers Sunday learned that they will play in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, ironically against Utah of all teams. Though they play in a weakened Big East conference and sport a somewhat underwhelming season-ending #21 BCS ranking, Pitt is continuing a string of remarkable success in winning seasons and bowl games under Harris. The eight-year head coach and the Pitt administration have been at odds with each other since before the season when Harris' agent made demands of a big contract extension, and there is little evidence that the school wants to spend to keep him on campus despite his newly garnered BCS credentials. Harris has ties to the West Coast and to Leland including time at the University of Pacific.
We were advised Monday that Leland would be on campus today for a joint announcement to the media with the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee and the National Senior Games Association at Stanford. The timeframe of that event was going to likely preclude Leland from making a trip to Pittsburgh, so we knew it would be telling whether he made that trip Monday or not. Late that afternoon, we learned that the Stanford Athletic Director was indeed in Pittsburgh meeting with and interviewing Harris. That activity parallels Leland's meeting with Chow on Monday and further solidifies our belief that they are riding high as the top two candidates currently for the head coaching position. We do not yet know of the plans or timetable to bring Harris on campus, but we would believe it likely to happen on or around Thursday. Once again, time is short for the rising senior players to meet and interview a candidate like Harris, and there is no reason to believe that would not take place this week while they are still in town finishing their final exams.
Whether Harris leads Chow or Chow leads Harris at this time, the on-campus interviews with the Search Committee and with the players should ultimately determine who first gets an offer from Stanford. If the job is offered to one or at some point both of these candidates soon after the interviews, we could have a new head coach for Cardinal Football by the end of the weekend. However, if any number of things fall through with these two targets, we could see Stanford start back at square one and need much more time to secure a head coach.
- Jim Fassel has also made news in the last 24 hours, as he declared to the media that he was not interested in coaching in college this next year, referring most specifically to the jobs at Stanford and Notre Dame. Given the depth of efforts we believe that Fassel made for more than a month in talking with Stanford about becoming their next head coach, it is not so obvious that he was the one pulling himself out of contention Monday. It is quite reasonable that the Cardinal advised him they would be moving in another direction, and let him save face by stating his withdrawal. We also report that sources tell us that Fassel did have some support in the Stanford Family, including the one man who years ago was a Stanford student-athlete and today remains arguably more powerful than Ted Leland in Stanford Athletics...
- A number of Stanford fans have emotionally attached themselves to Dan Hawkins, the head coach at Boise State, as they have been enamored by his winning percentage and offensive prowess in leading the Broncos. He made news with his reported contract extension that he drafted with Boise State that would keep him there for a number of years with a salary raise and a buyout clause worth $850,000. Reports say he has not yet signed that contract, and right now it is best to assume this is a negotiating strategy for 44-year old as he is courted by schools including Washington and Notre Dame. One factor to keep in mind as Hawkins considers taking a new job or staying in Boise is the BCS. Despite a heralded 11-0 season, the Broncos were not quite close to making one of the at-large spots from the WAC. Boise State has a #9 BCS ranking at the end of the regular season, and Hawkins may have to consider the ceiling he is giving at the school, not unlike the ceiling Tyrone Willingham contemplated when his 9-2 finish at the end of the 2001 regular season netted him the lowly Seattle Bowl. The case is more extreme with Hawkins, given that he finished 2004 with a perfect record and himself did not stumble in games like Willingham did then. Despite the perfect season, strength of schedule doomed the Broncos to an average computer rankings of #7. Even with a higher finish in the subject polls, Hawkins and Boise State would have had almost no chance of a BCS bid this year.
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