More on Harbaugh

The press conference has not yet been held, but we already have much more for you on the hire of Jim Harbaugh as the new Stanford Football head coach. We have more insights, facts, reflections and predictions you need to read on the most important man today on The Farm.

Jim Harbaugh is a Michigan alumnus, and that is a teeny bit unsettling to some fans.  It shouldn't be.  You can count on one hand the number of the current top college coaches found at their alma mater.  And there are instances every day where a coach has to recruit against the place where he put on his pads and helmet.  Was there a problem when Stanford hired John Ralston, who played across the Bay at Cal?  Did it ever affect Stanford negatively that Bill Walsh was a San Jose State man?  They coached their respective tenures a The Farm and did eventually leave, though only for the NFL and not for other college jobs.  Will Harbaugh someday be discussed as a Michigan head coaching candidate?  Perhaps, if the timing is right for the Wolverines and if Harbaugh is indeed an unquestioned success at Stanford.  But a couple of other recent Cardinal coaches who came from the Big 10 have bounced around jobs since and not yet returned to their alma mater: Dennis Green (Iowa) and Tyrone Willingham (Michigan State)...

More interesting to me is the question of how Harbaugh will handle recruits who are looking seriously at both Stanford and Michigan.  There have been fewer of those recruiting battles the last two or three years, for various reasons.  But they will happen again.  This is one question I plan on posing to Harbaugh today at his press conference.  There is nobody on the Class of 2007 recruiting board that comes to mind who holds offers from both schools and is still considering both (Mitchell Schwartz, for example, already knocked the Wolverines off his list), so it will be a hypothetical and safe question for the new Cardinal coach to answer.  The 2008 class may offer some interesting tests, including highly regarded Ohio tight end Brandon Moore, who already holds a Stanford offer and is squarely in Michigan's cross hairs...

I wrote yesterday the thought that Bobby Hauck may have been the only candidate at the end of this search who might have been on Bob Bowlsby's short list while still at Iowa, prior to moving to Stanford in July.  The other finalists had a clear Stanford tie, including Harbaugh having attended Palo Alto High School across the street from Stanford Stadium while his father was the Stanford defensive coordinator in 1980 and 1981.  Upon further reflection, I think it is possible that Harbaugh was on Bowlsby's radar, if not his short list, while he was still at Iowa City.  Harbaugh after all was a Big 10 quarterback who played most of his NFL career in the Big 10's backyard (Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts).  It would have been hard for Bowlsby not to track Harbaugh, even in a remote destination such as the University of San Diego.  Harbaugh was already making headlines last year when we won the first of his two Mid-Major National Championships with the Toreros...

Is Harbaugh young, relatively speaking, in this hire?  Not really.  His total coaching résumé is a little short in the tooth, but his age and overall football experience place him in the middle of Stanford's hires the past couple decades.  Harbaugh today is 42 (he turns 43 on Saturday).  Buddy Teevens was hired by Stanford at 45, and Walt Harris two years ago was 58.  Tyrone Willingham was 41 when he landed the Cardinal head coaching job.  Three years earlier, Stanford hailed the return of "The Genius" - Bill Walsh was 60.  He was 45 the first time Stanford hired him, by the way.  Dennis Green at 39 was the springiest of chickens among the group...

Harbaugh is, by way of college coaching experience, a young guy who hasn't been around the block and seen what a highly competitive Division I-A program needs today to succeed.  His last such experience was in Ann Arbor 20 years ago, and the Wolverines program has changed and upgraded substantially since.  College football is fast-changing, in the so-called "arms race" of facilities and institutional initiatives.  Harbaugh has enough on his plate with recruiting better players, installing a better offense and producing a better W/L record at Stanford right now.  It could be dangerous for him and the Cardinal program if he has to learn through slowly accumulated experiences as a Pac-10 head coach where Stanford Football is deficient in resources.  However, Harbaugh has fallen into a uniquely fortunate situation.  Stanford in the past five years has been transformed with nearly the entire gamut of football upgrades: new locker room (2002), new weight room (2002), new practice field (2005), new offices (2006) and new stadium (2006).  In other institutional areas of support, he is walking into what is becoming a more favorable admissions environment than has been seen in several years; some incoming freshmen are now being granted opportunities to enroll for summer school; and a housing initiative is underway to dramatically upgrade the ability to retain assistant coaches.  Harbaugh's two predecessors, Teevens and Harris, may have lost while they were at Stanford, but they did make miraculous headway in these areas and laid a foundation which Harbaugh can immediately enjoy.  It also doesn't hurt to have a first-year athletic director in Bob Bowlsby who is regarded as one of the best and brightest in the nation, and who in particular procured the tools for Iowa's football success...

Before we close the book on the coaching search, it is worth pointing out that the other member of the final two from which Stanford made this hire was James Lofton.  The former Stanford and NFL wide receiver great, and current San Diego Chargers wide receivers coach, was dismissed out of hand when he lobbied for the job two years ago.  He never received an interview, to the best of our knowledge.  Still in the same job (and his one coaching job), Lofton two years later nearly landed the job.  The man who was and is thought by many fans to be an "uninspired" candidate for the job may be more than meets the eye.  Remember that the public eye knows the least about Lofton than any of probably the top 15 or 20 putative candidates that were discussed in the past two weeks.  Why?  Because an assistant coach in the NFL, unless he is a quarterbacks coach or a coordinator, has negligible public exposure.  People inside the NFL know them, but we learn little relative to college assistants, who we watch daily at practices, about which we hear from recruits and whom we read daily in stories and interviews.  We frankly don't know what kind of coach Lofton is, and that makes him hard to both disqualify and support in a search like this.  It would be insightful if we can learn down the road what Bowlsby liked about Lofton, who has never expressed any college coaching ambition other than Stanford...

Our attention will turn now not only to recruiting, but also to the hiring of Harbaugh's staff.  For somebody who has coached in college three years at a I-AA school, Harbaugh does not have a sizable coaching tree of experience we can trace in looking for the assistants and coordinators he could bring onto his staff.  One name of particular interest with him in San Diego today is David Shaw, who played wide receiver at Stanford under Bill Walsh and Denny Green.  Shaw is the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach for the Toreros, and he has also coached in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens.  We heard that Shaw would have been on Lofton's staff, and it is also worth pointing out that Shaw worked with Fassel in Baltimore.  He may have found his way back to The Farm by any of three of the finalists in this Stanford head coaching search...

After learning that there was an interview committee that worked with Bowlsby in the final stages of this search process, several people have asked me, "Why?"  Bowlsby had the ultimate say in this hire, and most in the Cardinal community today put trust in his judgment and decisions after his track record of wild success for football at Iowa.  So why muddy his waters while sailing in this search?  Involvement of key people in the athletic department and the relevant bodies of the University is politically expedient because Bowlsby will want them on board while working with his new head coach in the coming years.  If there are any moments of difficulty when Bowlsby has to ask for support, he would find it more difficult to attain that backing if he is perceived as having acted like a lone wolf in hiring Harbaugh.  Administrators who participated in the process are now part of this hire, and they will be more willing as "teammates" to help both Harbaugh and Bowlsby in the future...

Be careful what you read and who you believe.  The anonymity of message board banter can easily lead you down a stray path.  The proclamations by a faceless few in the past week-plus on our own free message board (as opposed to our subscriber-only premium forum) include almost entirely bogus suppositions.  Stanford supposedly was "ready to announce tomorrow" four or five different candidates.  A mildly more trustworthy "source" of information which a number of football fans follow is Footballscoop.com.  They wrote yesterday about Montana head coach Bobby Hauck, just hours before we first broke the Harbaugh news: "Expect Hauck to be named HC today!"  Whoops...

The timing of this hire comes regrettably a few days late for Stanford.  Sunday was the last day of December, ending a period of several weeks, when college coaches could go out on the road and make in-person visits with high school senior prospective student-athletes, either at their school or at home.  These visits are the most extensive and meaningful personal contact between a school and its favored recruit away from the school's campus.  Stanford the past two weeks had one coach, assistant and recruiting coordinator Nate Nelson, on the road covering the entire country as the lone coach on the Cardinal staff.  Harbaugh will have to wait until January to visit the living rooms of the top prospects on Stanford's board, and that could come too late for a few who have said they are determined to end their recruiting circus before Christmas...


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