Harbaugh Hires Defensive Coordinator

With hires already named for offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator, plus the likelihood that Stanford's recruiting coordinator is already on campus, all eyes have focused on who Jim Harbaugh would hire for his defensive coordinator. The answer came Sunday in Scott Shafer, an up-and-coming coaching talent who led one of the nation's best defenses in 2006 at Western Michigan.

Stanford and new head coach Jim Harbaugh made quick work in several of his hires on the offensive side of the ball, including a pair of coaches he brought with him from the University of San Diego and a former player/coach he knew well from Western Kentucky.  Harbaugh will also have a hand in the offense and will coach the quarterbacks.

The Cardinal defense is equally in need of leadership, and the hire of Harbaugh's defensive coordinator has been one of the closely watched aspects of his staff hiring.  Scott Shafer, the defensive coordinator at Western Michigan, came to Stanford on Friday and Saturday for interviews and meetings.  By Sunday he was offered and accepted the Stanford job.  After the paperwork is filed, an official announcement is expected today from Stanford.

Shafer, who turned 40 last month, will also carry the title of assistant head coach at Stanford.  The Ohio native has much of his position coaching background in the secondary but is not officially being named as the defensive backs coach.  Stanford Football has one hire remaining for this 2007 coaching staff, expected to be the defensive backs coach.  Harbaugh last week told The Bootleg that the position was down to two candidates, with one being Nate Nelson.  Nelson has continued in his capacity as Stanford's recruiting coordinator since Harbaugh's hire in December, playing a major role in the 19-man signing class inked last Wednesday.  Should Nelson not be retained by Harbaugh, it is believed that the recruiting coordinator duties may pass on to Lance Anderson, who is coaching defensive tackles at Stanford and was Harbaugh's recruiting coordinator at USD.  Stanford has no holdovers from the previous regime thus far in its eight announced coaching hires, an unusual and potentially dangerous move given the unique nature of Stanford's academic standards and application process in recruiting.

Scott Shafer is regarded in the coaching community as one of the bright up-and-coming talents on the defensive side of the ball.  He cut his teeth coaching eight years (1996-2003) at Northern Illinois, first as the secondary coach and then as the defensive coordinator.  You may remember those NIU teams earlier this decade which climbed the national rankings and knocked off multiple teams from BCS conferences, including Alabama and Maryland.  Shafer was hired away by Illinois in 2004, but head coach Ron Turner was fired after that season, which allowed new Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit to pick up a steal in Shafer.

The Broncos were coming off a 1-10 season when Shafer arrived in 2005, with a particularly putrid defense: 115th in total defense (480.6 yards per game) and 114th in scoring defense (39.6 points per game) out of 117 Division I-A teams.  Western Michigan turned around to the tune of a 7-4 record in that first season, the largest one-season turnaround in MAC history.  This past fall in Year Two for Cubit/Shafer, the Broncos won eight games.

Shafer's defense in 2006 ranked 11th in the nation in total defense (275.4 yards per game) and 39th in scoring defense (19.9 points per game).  His defense pressured opponents with unmatched success, as measured by Western Michigan's #1 ranking in Division I-A in both sacks and interceptions last fall.  The rushing defense stood #6 in the NCAA, allowing just 76.1 yards per game.  That number is particularly well-received on The Farm, where the Cardinal had an historically horrific rushing defense last season, finishing 117th of 119 Division I-A teams with 210.5 yards per game allowed on the ground.

This newest hire has no obvious ties or history with Jim Harbaugh, but the links to Stanford at Western Michigan are significant.  Cubit had coached quarterbacks and been offensive coordinator at Stanford in 2003 and 2004.  Also in Kalamazoo with recent Cardinal coaching experience are George McDonald (tight ends) and Nate Peoples (strength & conditioning).

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