Stanford's coaching transition has provided an opportunity for Stanford fans to reflect on what we expect from the football program and from the new head coach. I've put together my own wish list of things I hope to see as the program moves forward. My list includes four main points:
1. Maintain and build on Stanford's traditional strengths
Unlike many new coaches, Stanford's new coach does not take over a losing program or a program in disarray. This is a winning program with many strengths. I think it's important to preserve the accomplishments of the last seven years and to take advantage of the foundation that has been built. Some of the strong points that we need to maintain are these:
Stanford football is characterized by discipline, both on and off the field. For example, Stanford has been the least penalized team in the Pac 10 for the last six years in a row. I really like that statistic because it speaks of the players' discipline. Only one of the last seven Stanford teams had a negative turnover margin for the season. Stanford's practices run like clockwork: highly structured with no wasted time. Stanford's players are accustomed to being held accountable and holding one another accountable.
Stanford's players have a high degree of commitment. Just about the entire team chooses to stay in Palo Alto for the summer to work out together. I've heard that their commitment to weight training has increased in recent years. Commitment to constant improvement seems to have become part of the culture. Younger players have commented that they learned from watching the diligence and work habits of the older players.
Stanford teams maintain their focus and motivation. They know the value of persistence. They have the mindset of winners. Stanford's 1996 team went from a 2-5 start to a 7-5 finish. The 1999 team went from a 69-17 opening day loss to the Rose Bowl. Over the years, Stanford's teams often have bounced back from disappointing losses with big upset wins. Stanford teams almost always improve over the course of the season. Six of the last seven Stanford teams have had a winning record in November; those six teams had a combined November record of 17-4.
Stanford has a tradition of high quality offenses, especially passing offenses. The last few teams in particular have been notable additions to Stanford's long history of productive, entertaining offensive football.
Stanford has dominated the Big Game in recent years. Stanford currently has a seven game winning streak against that other school across the Bay. To me, this has been one of the most satisfying accomplishments of recent years (along with the Rose Bowl).
Stanford recently has done an excellent job of "closing" in the recruiting process. If a high school player is accepted by Stanford, gets an offer, and visits the campus, it seems that he usually ends up here. Stanford's recruiting has developed to the point where Stanford has been in the hunt for some of the best players in the nation, and has signed more than its fair share of talent.
Stanford's football program operates with integrity. There have been no scandals, probation or sanctions. Disciplinary problems are rare. Stanford does not cut corners for athletes. Stanford's athletes are expected to be students, to do their own work, and to find real jobs during the summer.
Stanford's players and coaches have projected a favorable image as representatives of the university.
The football team's graduation rates in recent years have been close to those for the student body as a whole. Academic problems have been minimal.
Stanford players are real students, with academic and social lives outside of football. Stanford's coaches recognize and care about their players' lives outside of football.
All of these are strengths of Stanford football. I hope and expect to see these strengths continue under the new coach's leadership.
2. Improve areas of weakness
As a result of the coaching transition, I hope to see improvement in some areas of relative weakness. Some of the areas in which the program could improve are these:
Stanford needs to take the program to the next level on the field. In particular, Stanford needs to improve its record in the most important games. The last coach's record in bowl games was 1-3. In those three bowl losses, Stanford's otherwise high-powered offense was held to season lows. In all three of those games, Stanford got outcoached. In some of the most important regular season games of the last seven years (USC in 1995, Washington in 1999, Washington in 2001), Stanford also came up short, at least in part due to coaching and preparation. If this program is to take the step to the next level, we need better performances in important games.
Stanford needs to improve its team speed, especially on defense.
Stanford needs to step up its recruiting effort by identifying and vigorously recruiting every top-notch player in America who can qualify academically. In the past, Stanford's record has been "hit-or-miss" in finding and recruiting qualified players early. There aren't so many qualified players out there that Stanford can afford "hit-or-miss."
Stanford needs better public relations. The last coach was impressive in personal interaction and in small groups. But he seemed to view the press with suspicion. He rarely provided meaningful information in press conferences. His answers to questions in interviews often consisted of bland platitudes, pretty much devoid of meaningful content.
Stanford needs better marketing for the football program. The last coach limited his participation in alumni events to the bare minimum, sometimes leaving early from events he attended. So far as I am aware, he did not reach out to the student body or the surrounding communities to drum up interest in the football program. He did not try to generate enthusiasm for the program by touting the merits of his team. He did not seek out media recognition or awards for his star players.
The football program needs to be more fan-friendly. The last coach sometimes seemed to view fans as a distraction. For example, for many years, Stanford players would mingle with families and fans as they made their way back to the locker room after the game. More recently, players told us that they couldn't linger to talk with us after the game because the coach didn't like it. That was a mistake. The program's biggest asset is its players. They should interact with fans as much as possible. The coach also could take advantage of internet fan sites, such as The Bootleg, to reach out to the program's most passionate and devoted fans.
I would like to see the program improve in each of these areas.
3. Address structural issues affecting the program
There are a number of structural issues that will influence the long-term success of the Stanford football program. The football program's voice needs to be heard within the university on these issues.
Many of us believe the stadium is due for renovation or replacement. I believe it will happen, but progress has been very slow. The university has other priorities for fund-raising, we are told, and the stadium must wait. I understand that the