Coaching Criteria - Part I

In looking ahead to the next head coach hired to lead Stanford Football, we might look at recent history. The approach of late has led to a mixture of inconsistency and abject failure. What has been flawed in the mission of those hires, and thus what does history teach us that can be changed for 2007 and beyond on The Farm.

This time two years ago, we were off to the races in our coverage of the Stanford Football head coaching vacancy.  We knew the short list.  We knew the final two.  We knew when Norm Chow and Walt Harris came to campus, and we knew when Harris was offered and then accepted the job.  The Bootleg looked brilliant, if we don't mind saying so.

There is new sheriff on The Farm nowadays, however, and information available at this point in the search under the watch of Bob Bowlsby is very different than two years ago under Ted Leland.  Information is being kept by Bowlsby as tight as a Trent Edwards spiral.  The first-year Stanford athletic director has to this point not shared his short list of coaching candidates with another humanoid.

In that light, before we take a dive into the deep sea of candidates for this job, we would like to examine the conditions and criteria from which you should forge the lens for candidate contemplation.

First, a brief history lesson.  There have been a handful of hires for Stanford Football the last 15 years, all of whom previous to the current search were inked by Leland.  The first is not terribly instructive, other than how it set off a chain of events and behavior that followed.  Leland and Stanford hired Bill Walsh in 1992 with more splash and celebration than any other head coach in the modern era.  The Genius was coming home, with fingers full of Super Bowl rings and his legacy long established as the most successful football coach and offensive mind of our time.

But Walsh fell into Leland's lap.  There was no search process that decided upon the silver-haired hero, who had sparked Stanford in the late 1970s in his first head coaching gig.  Walsh took off the broadcasting headset that had strangled him in his attempted post-49ers career, and he declared that coaching again at Stanford was his "bliss."

Without delving into the good and bad that played out during the Walsh II era of Stanford Football, the point is that no search or decision was enacted.  Walsh knocked down the front door and grabbed the chair in corner office.

It was when Walsh stepped down and retired three years that we had our first of the recent and relevant coaching searches.  Recruiting was otherworldly under Walsh, and the offense was high-powered.  What was missing was discipline, toughness and accountability.  In the first of several band-aid hires, that brought Tyrone Willingham to Stanford.  His strengths spoke directly to the areas which were felt in need of help.

Willingham had clear shortcomings, but he tightened the ship and rallied Walsh's recruits to bowl appearances in his first two years.  As that talent pipeline dried up and Willingham's recruiting ravaged the roster, however, a rocky road of up-and-down seasons ensued.  Sandwiching the Rose Bowl season were 3-8 and 5-6 campaigns.  Admissions standards also tightened without Walsh wielding power, which exacerbated the effects of Willingham's lax efforts on the recruiting trail.  It was also a point of much angst that Willingham worked poorly with the media, public relations and boosters.

When Willingham left for Notre Dame, Leland sought out the most talented and hard-working recruiter he knew.  In Buddy Teevens, he landed a recruiter with the work ethic to beat the bushes early in the recruiting cycle and personally engage top prospects.  Teevens also brought that same energy to the media and boosters.  Unfortunately, he brought disaster to the Stanford offense with three offensive coordinators in three years, all of whom failed through his handling.

Willingham spent a good deal of time learning on the job, with no prior head coaching or coordinator experience.  Teevens had zero successful head coaching experience in Division I-A football (Leland overestimated the value of success at I-AA Dartmouth while ignoring the 11-45 at Tulane).  Leland wanted a more proven quantity the next go-around, and particularly somebody who could coach offense at a high level.  It was most un-Stanford-like to languish at the bottom of conference and national offensive statistical categories during Teevens' tenure.

Walt Harris answered these areas for Leland.  He was one of the most proven and successful head coaches hired into Stanford in three-quarters of a century.  Stanford had a history since Pop Warner of taking "chances" on former players, assistants and up-and-coming coaches - excepting most notably Walsh II.  Consider:

Walt Harris 2005-06 Pittsburgh head coach (52-44)
Buddy Teevens 2002-04 Florida assistant coach /
Tulane head coach (11-45)
Tyrone Willingham 1995-2001 Minnesota Vikings running backs coach /
Stanford assistant coach
Bill Walsh 1992-94 San Francisco 49ers head coach /
Stanford head coach (17-7)
Denny Green 1989-91 San Francisco 49ers running backs coach /
Northwestern head coach (10-45)
Jack Elway 1984-88 San Jose State head coach (35-20-1)
Paul Wiggin 1980-83 former Stanford player /
various NFL coaching jobs
Rod Dowhower 1979 Stanford wide receivers coach
Bill Walsh 1977-78 Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers assistant coach
Jack Christiansen 1972-76 Stanford assistant coach
John Ralston 1963-71 Utah State head coach (31-11-1)
Jack Curtice 1958-62 Utah head coach (45-32-4)
Chuck Taylor 1951-57 former Stanford player /
Stanford assistant coach
Marchmont Schwartz 1942,46-50 Stanford assistant coach /
Creighton head coach (19-22-2)
Clark Shaughnessy 1940-41 University of Chicago head coach (18-33-4)
"Tiny" Thornhill 1933-39 Stanford assistant coach
"Pop" Warner 1924-32 Pittsburgh head coach (59-11-4)

Taking a page from the history books, Leland hired in Harris a winning coach at a major level of college football.  More enticing was the fact that Harris had a long-proven record of offensive acumen, particularly in the passing game, in addition to experience rescuing a Pitt program that was on life support.  Harris led the Panthers to six bowls in eight years, including the last five before moving to Stanford.

But at the end of a 1-11 season and Harris' firing after just two years, Stanford now realizes that the band-aid approach of addressing the weaknesses of its last coach with its next hire does not work.  Harris was more surprising in his failures than Teevens or Willingham, but nonetheless, here we are.

In each of the recent hires, Stanford has focused on fixing its failures.  The recipe instead for a successful football head coach at this school and in this currently competitive collegiate landscape requires a fresh, holistic approach.  Next, we examine how we believe Bob Bowlsby is searching for that complete Cardinal coach...


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