Assembling a Staff: Part II

In Part I we laid the groundwork for the importance of assistant coaches in football as well as the opportunity to land your best assistants in Year One as a head coach. Departing from the theoretical and diving into the details, we answer in Part II the questions of who has been newly hired by Jim Harbaugh, who could be retained and who are some names interviewing.

The one assistant coach who has thus far held over from the Walt Harris staff is recruiting coordinator Nate Nelson.  During the two weeks that contained the Stanford head coaching search after Harris was fired, which were also the last two weeks of the NCAA recruiting contact period before the current four-week dead period, Nelson flew all over the country and visited close to every one of the recruits on Stanford's board.  He has managed this class for the past year.  Nelson has also spear-headed the earliest and most aggressive junior recruiting Stanford Football has ever seen, which reached the point of offering several 2008 prospects before they completed their junior season.  Numerous more were on the cusp of Cardinal offers when Harris was fired.  Nelson is the bridge between the past/present recruiting and Jim Harbaugh's first two classes he will sign, and it is no surprise that Nelson has thus far been retained.

The question is how long Harbaugh will hold onto Nelson, who has not yet been definitively hired for the 2007 season.  It could be a self-destructive move for Harbaugh to release Nelson, in that the first-year head coach would be starting from scratch recruiting at Stanford.  In each of the recent Cardinal coaching transitions, the previous recruiting coordinator was retained - Dave Tipton in 2002 and Tom Quinn in 2005.  That allowed for a transfer of accumulated knowledge, wisdom and strategy in the unique nuances of Stanford recruiting.  That in turn engendered visible incremental improvements in process each of the last five years.  Reinventing the wheel could send Harbaugh and Stanford back to the stone ages.

Why would Harbaugh consider not retaining Nelson?  The coaching staff that Walt Harris constructed had Harris coach quarterbacks and spread eight assistants across the rest of the offense, defense and special teams.  The ninth assistant was 95% dedicated to recruiting (the other 5% for the specialists - kickers, punters and snappers).  Harbaugh may not continue that unconventional model.  While Stanford more than any program in the nation needs the best dedicated attention to recruiting, given its unique admissions standards and process, the trade-off is one less position coach involved with a meaningful chunk of the roster.  Harbaugh would like to have his recruiting coordinator also coach a position group, and he is still balancing Nelson's qualifications in that area versus the available pool of candidates in the college and pro ranks.  Nelson would most likely coach in the defensive backfield for Stanford if on the staff for 2007.  He was an All-American safety at UC Davis, defensive coordinator for two years at Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's High School in 2002 and 2003, assisted on defense for Stanford in 2004, coached cornerbacks at Princeton in 2005 and also assisted with the scout defense for Stanford this past season in 2006.

The assistant destined for defense who has been definitively hired by Harbaugh was his defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at University of San Diego, Lance Anderson.  Anderson's hire fuels speculation that he would coordinate recruiting for Stanford in 2007, but instead it is still Nelson holding that role today.  Anderson's experience comes primarily on the defensive line, comprising five of his last six years of coaching.  It is unclear whether Stanford will operate with a four-man or three-man defensive line under Harbaugh, which also leaves open the question of whether there would be one defensive line coach or perhaps a second assistant who coaches the ends and outside linebackers.  Anderson did coach outside linebackers one year (2004) at Utah State.  Anderson's hire dims the chances, at least on paper, of Harbaugh retaining Dave Tipton as an assistant coach on his staff.  Tipton coached the last 18 years as an assistant at Stanford, with the last 15 on the defensive line.  He also played on the 1970 Stanford team with Jim Plunkett that went to the Rose Bowl.

Harbaugh's other three hires are likely to coach on the offensive side of the ball.  The most experienced of the trio is Tim Drevno, who like Anderson was coaching at USD this past season.  Drevno in fact was a coach Harbaugh inherited when he arrived in San Diego in December 2003.  That pairing worked well for both, with Drevno taking on the duties of offensive coordinator.  The Drevno-driven offense of the Toreros has scraped the sky with production in his four years: 2003: 483.3 yards per game and 39.9 points per game; 2004: 432.4 ypg and 36.1 ppg; 2005: 485.2 ypg and 42.6 ppg; and 2006: 494.2 ypg and 42.8 ppg.  Those marks the last two years set new USD records, and the 2006 numbers this past fall both ranked #1 in Division I-AA football.  With that level of success and a three-year working relationship with Harbaugh, Drevno stands to reason to again carry the title of offensive coordinator at Stanford.

The more intricate question is what position players Drevno will coach.  He had sole possession of the offensive line with the Toreros, and he coached the offensive line in stints prior to USD at Idaho and San Jose State.  Drevno coached running backs early in his coaching career at Montana State and UNLV.  We believe that Drevno has not been announced as a hire - with similar reasoning for the silence on the other hires - because his position destination is yet to be settled.  As the plans have been currently drawn up, the Torrance (Calif.) native will coach offensive tackles and tight ends at Stanford.  That would leave a vacancy still to be filled by a future hire for the interior of the offensive line (guards and centers).  However, if a superior applicant and fit for the staff's needs should be found who is better qualified to coach tight ends/tackles, Drevno could slide inside and coach the interior players.

The third USD assistant who has come to The Farm is a familiar face.  David Shaw played wide receiver at Stanford (1990-94) under Dennis Green and Bill Walsh.  His father, Willie Shaw, coached in two stints at Stanford.  Following in his father's footsteps, the younger Shaw made several of his early coaching stops in the NFL: Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens.  2006 was his first year at USD, where he coached wide receivers and carried the additional title of "passing game coordinator."  Harbaugh broke the news to The Bootleg last month when he was hired that Shaw was coming with him and would carry some form of a coordinator title.  Observers may have interpreted that to mean that Shaw would be offensive coordinator, but it is unlikely that he would leapfrog Drevno for that role.  Shaw's playing and a good amount of his coaching experience has come at wide receiver, but he has also coached quarterbacks in the NFL.  At the moment, he is slated for wide receivers.  Like Drevno, Shaw's position group may be finalized after the remainder of the offensive staff has been hired.

The newest arrival on campus to join the coaching staff mirrors the three USD assistants in that they all have prior coaching experience with Harbaugh, but Willie Taggart comes from the other coast.  Taggart was a prolific quarterback at Western Kentucky from 1995 to 1998, running for a then-Division I quarterback record 3,997 yards, and immediately joined the Hilltoppers' staff after graduation in 1999.  He coached quarterbacks for eight years at the Division I-AA program, and the last four years he was WKU's assistant head coach.  Taggart was coached by and then coached with Jack Harbaugh, the father of Stanford's new leader.  Moreover, Jim Harbaugh was an NCAA certified assistant at Western Kentucky while Taggart was playing and coaching (Harbaugh was still playing in the NFL at the time).  In fact, the younger Harbaugh recruited Florida and Indiana while working part-time as a WKU assistant.  His first recruit he landed?  Taggart.  Quarterbacks would be the obvious position for Taggart to coach, but don't be surprised if he takes running backs.

He is not an assistant coach for football positions, but another hire of note is the new strength & conditioning coach for Stanford.  New athletic director Bob Bowlsby knows that the secret to his football program's success at Iowa was their strength & conditioning program.  Given his desire to upgrade that area for the Cardinal, after witnessing physical struggles of late at the line of scrimmage, we expected a change for 2007 regardless of whether Walt Harris was coming back.  Indeed, Ron Forbes is out and USD's strength coach has joined the train to Palo Alto.  Shannon Turley was with Harbaugh and the Toreros one year after working previously at Missouri, Virginia Tech and Minor League Baseball.  He is young, energetic, trains football-specific and prides himself on players not getting hurt.

Ever since a report in December on, it has been several times repeated that Oakland Raiders linebackers coach Don Martindale has been hired by Harbaugh as Stanford's defensive coordinator.  This website is a professional resource for football assistant coaches and often has good information on hires and moves in their ranks.  Unfortunately, there is bad information with the good.  The same source that told us that Bobby Hauck was being hired as Stanford's new head coach - hours before Harbaugh was hired - again missed the mark.  Martindale is not at Stanford and has not been at Stanford.

We do expect a heavy amount of activity in the next few days and especially next week with a breadth of college and NFL coaches interviewing with Harbaugh.  The NFL regular season just ended on Sunday, which finished the year for 18 clubs and their coaches.  Another four more teams will wrap after wild card games are played this weekend.  The American Football Coaches Association Convention, the renowned meat market for coaches, starts on Sunday in San Antonio and runs through Wednesday.  Most of the hires and moves that take place in college football either transact or are precipitated by interviews, informal meetings or handshakes during these four days.

Some other activity we can report includes an interview yesterday of Tucker Waugh, Stanford's wide receivers coach the last two years under Harris.  Waugh on paper looks like a man without a home at Stanford with Shaw on the staff.  However, Shaw could coach quarterbacks and Taggart could take the running backs.  Another and perhaps more reasonable scenario would have Waugh coach the tight ends/tackles and Drevno move to the interior of the offensive line.  Waugh is a lesson in the media and fans alike judging a book by its cover.  He was perhaps the top head-scratcher when Harris assembled his staff two years ago - what good is the wide receivers coach at an option offense like Army?  Waugh turned out to be a gem, not only regarded by players as one of the most respected and beloved coaches the past two years on The Farm, but also arguably the most successful.  One would be hard-pressed to find a single wide receiver Waugh touched who did not improve during his two years.  Justin McCullum, Gerren Crochet, Mark Bradford, Evan Moore, Richard Sherman, Marcus McCutcheon, Kelton Lynn, Mike Miller, etc.  Had Harris stayed at Stanford for the 2007 season, Waugh would have been the number one priority for assistant coach retention.  Many people on and around the team would be pleased to see this staff take him on.

Another interesting interviewee with Stanford ties is former offensive lineman Chris Dalman, who would add Cardinal roots as well as NFL playing and coaching experience to the roster.  Dalman coached the last two years with the Atlanta Falcons and played eight years (started six) with the San Francisco 49ers, picking up a Super Bowl XXIX ring along the way.  His professional playing career ended with a neck injury that initially paralyzed him.  Dalman was a teammate of Shaw's and a starting senior center on the 1992 team that won 10 games.

Speaking of college teammates, Michigan offensive line coach Andy Moeller was a classmate of Harbaugh's and co-captain at Michigan.  Moreover, they attended the same high school in Ann Arbor (Mich.) before the Harbaugh family moved to Palo Alto after his sophomore year.  Moeller has coached the Wolverines the past seven years, with the most recent five on the offensive line.  Prior coaching stops included Missouri and Army, with a mixture of offensive line, tight ends and linebackers.  Moeller was a standout linebacker during his Michigan playing days, which theoretically allows the possibility of his coaching on defense, though offensive line is more likely.  He is soon to interview.

One final note:  Though there is good reason for Harbaugh or any new head coach to be careful (and thus somewhat patient) in hiring a new staff, there is a cost that comes with waiting too long.  Harris completed much of his staff at the end of January two years ago.  The time that elapsed prior to some of those hiring decisions left Stanford high and dry on junior recruiting.  A skeleton Stanford staff was stretched thin in January merely trying to hold together and close on the seniors, which ultimately was very successful.  But the weeks allowed to college coaches in January to visit high schools is the cornerstone upon which junior recruiting is built.  After Signing Day passes, coaches cannot go to high schools again until a period of a few weeks late in the spring.  Stanford spent that winter of 2005 trying to play catch-up with other schools on junior recruiting and then had to do footwork in May.  It was a harsh lesson that cost the Cardinal a good deal of ground with the 2006 recruiting class.  Harbaugh has the potential to get a good jump on junior recruiting and the '08 class if he has enough of his staff in place when the contact period allows coaches to go on the road on January 14.  While many eyes are on the 2007 crop right now, the three weeks between January 14 and February 3 could make or break the next class and an important part of Stanford's future.

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