The first two of the assistant coaching vacancies at Stanford created in the past couple weeks have been filled with familiar faces for Stanford Football. Shortly after Signing Day, defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator Tom Hayes was hired by the New Orleans Saints. He was immediately followed by running backs coach Wayne Moses to the St. Louis Rams. Two more assistants were snagged by the NFL since, but the first two jobs have now been filled.
Back from the San Francisco 49ers after a one year stint is A.J. Christoff, who is back on The Farm for his third stay as an assistant coach. He was the defensive coordinator in 1983 under Paul Wiggin, and then most recently for the 2003 and 2004 seasons under Buddy Teevens. Christoff was one of three Cardinal coaches retained from the Teevens staff by Walt Harris, and he started 2005 in his same position to lead Harris' defense. But Mike Nolan was hired by San Francisco as their new head coach in late January. Nolan was the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, where Christoff spent time during the 2004 off-season to learn the 3-4 defense that he installed that spring at Stanford. That tie, and Stanford's success with the 3-4 defense that fall, contributed to Nolan's hire of Christoff within days. The Niners implemented a 3-4 defense for the first time in 2005 and had success, relative to the team's overall abysmal performance.
Also back for his fourth year at Stanford is Buzz Preston, who coached running backs from 1999 through 2001 under Tyrone Willingham. The Los Angeles (Calif.) native followed Willingham to Notre Dame the next three years and was expected to coach for a seventh straight year with the head coach at Washington in 2005 but was left behind. Don't feel too bad for Preston, though, who was paid by Notre Dame while he took time off this past season. Stanford fans can be excited about Preston's return, given the production Cardinal backs enjoyed during his three years on The Farm, including a peak performance of more than 2,000 yards in 2001 from his charges. Brian Allen, Kerry Carter and Casey Moore all played under Preston and went on to the NFL.
Both coaches have been away from college football for a full year and will have to reconnect their recruiting roots with high school players and coaches, as the Cardinal kick into gear their effort toward the 2007 recruiting class. Christoff last recruited areas of Northern and Central California, as well as Colorado. Those areas are currently covered by Dave Tipton and Tom Freeman, in addition to their other responsibilities. Preston last recruited Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Indiana for Notre Dame. Some of that territory is currently covered by Darrell Patterson and Tucker Waugh, though Louisiana and the greater Houston (Tex.) area was covered by the departed Hayes. Preston also has roots in Southern California, where several counties were recruited by the departed Moses and Tom Quinn. It remains to be seen where Preston and Christoff recruit this year for Stanford.
Two more assistant coaches remain to be hired by Walt Harris, filling the voids left by Quinn (outside linebackers, special teams coordinator) and Nate Hackett (recruiting coordinator). A number of coaches are currently coming through campus to interview with Harris for these positions. One candidate of note, who would continue the theme of familiar faces returning to Stanford, is Nate Nelson. Both Nelson and Hackett are young graduates of UC Davis. Hackett was tabbed by Harris for his first assistant coaching job after serving the previous two years at Stanford as an assistant to the offensive and defensive coaches. Nelson has split his last two years at Stanford and Princeton as an assistant to the defensive coaches. Hackett was nominally a specialists coach at Stanford in 2005 but dedicated "95%" of his time to his duties as recruiting coordinator. Nelson is interviewing for the same position, and the parallels in their résumés suggest that he could give Stanford much of what they enjoyed in 2005 in recruiting under Hackett.
Update: Nelson has indeed been hired as Stanford's recruiting coordinator. The move is a testament to Harris' belief in the idea of having a wholly dedicated recruiting coordinator on his staff, and well as his positive experience with Hackett in that model this past year.
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