A Conversation with David Shaw: Part I

The following is the first of a five-part conversation with Stanford Offensive Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach David Shaw conducted by "Emeritus" at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center on Thursday, July 17, 2008. Shaw is a terrific interview. Read on to learn more about his offensive philosophy, hear his views on the 2007 season and his high hopes for the upcoming 2008 campaign.

The following is the first of a three-part conversation with Stanford Offensive Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach David Shaw conducted by "Emeritus" at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center on Thursday, July 17, 2008: 

TheBootleg.com: Thanks for being here, Coach, glad to have you here on the Farm! You are not only a former Cardinal wide receiver, but a four-year letterman with a degree in sociology. Nice work and all, but if you don't mind, let's go immediately on the offensive and get something out of the way up front - Why don't we throw to the tight end more?

David Shaw: [Laughing] Well, we've got to keep our tight ends healthy! Jimmy Dray was playing great up until the fourth game last year when he got injured and we had a few tight ends that rotated in last year - they had bumps and bruises and dings. Ben Ladner actually made a lot of plays for us in kind of a role that we crafted for him, blocking as well as receiving, for him specifically. He helped us out a bunch, converted some third downs against Washington State, against Oregon State, even against Cal he had a couple of big "rolls" couple of touchdown drives against Cal.

TB: Admittedly, that was a bit of a joke question because that is what we get from crusty Shady-Siders all the time and it is certainly a legitimate question, but back to being serious, why didn't we pass more to the backs in 2007? We didn't have a back with more than 12 catches, part of that was injury and having to rotate guys through, was there a reason why we didn't have a higher number of touches for the backs out of the backfield versus what the expectation clearly was coming in  - of running a more diverse offensive system?

DS: I think the big thing about throwing to the backs, and you talk about statistics in particular, you hit the nail on the head - we have to stay healthy. We played more backs I'm sure than anybody, out of necessity. We had two games. where at the end of the game we were playing one running back. That's all we've got! Over the course of two games we lost two running backs. You talk about practice time, you talk about check-downs, where guys know where they need to be...Jeremy Stewart came in and did a heck of a job as a freshman, yet he was still a freshman. Here we're leaning on the guy that basically is still getting used to college football, still learning the offense, and he did a heck of a job... for a freshman.

TB: And in the case of "Patch" (Stewart), he didn't have a lot of experience catching the ball out of the backfield in high school....

DS:  Right, and we wanted to do that with an Anthony Kimble, but with Anthony having shoulder issues and missing a few games here and there and playing parts of games it was hard to really push for that part of the offense, not knowing who that back was going to be and how healthy that back was going to be, when we had the opportunity.

TB: Is it then fair to say that, had the position not been inundated with injuries, we would have seen a higher percentage of our pass attempts be directed to the backs?

DS: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's where the bulk of this offense is, as it has grown up through the years. You've got to use all five eligibles. 

TB: So, barring injury and let's say having optimal personnel available, what "offense" are you trying to run?

DS: I don't want to put a name on it. I don't want to put a name on it for the pure reason that I've got a lot of big names I have worked for, and worked with. The influences were very heavy and they are NFL as well as college. Nine years in the NFL with some very good teams, some very good players, some very good coaches. Coach Harbaugh has his experience, he has a big footprint on this offense as well. I don't want to categorize this offense as "West Coast", as a "Spread", to put a name on it except to say that it is a "Stanford" offense right now and that when healthy, we are an "attacking" offense. We like to put points up, we like to make yards, we want to keep everybody in the game, like to make the defense know that all five guys are eligible and anybody can get the ball at any time. 

TB: All of that sounds to me sounded fairly general until you got to the "all five eligible" aspect...meaning to spread the field, take away predictability. It is great to say we will be attacking, putting points on the board...Putting points on the board tends to be the product of an efficient offense, right?

DS:  It can be the product of a couple of different things. You can put points on the board by making a lot of big plays, but you can still be inefficient offensively. Or really capitalizing off of turnovers, on field position, and playing smart football. The big thing is to do both. One big thing that nobody can lose sight of is that the team Coach Harbaugh inherited was a team that was inefficient across the board. It was a team that was a losing football team, that had lost. It was different for us. In my own career - I had been on teams that had been to bowl games and NFL playoff games and was used to being efficient and good.  We had to lay the groundwork. We're still in midseason and we have a "big" offense, it probably didn't seem as "big" during the year, as an offense, but we were still teaching it throughout the year. 

TB: When you say "big", you mean in terms of complexity, the number of plays, sets, formations....? 

DS:  We have a lot of things that we can do.

TB: So the gloves haven't come off yet?

DS: Absolutely not. At the same time, a good offensive team is never stagnant. It's always changing and pushing something to the side and adding something that's just how you go about growing and getting better. 

TB: So, can you have that West Coast "influence" of maintaining a high-percentage, "move-the-chains" strategy and manage to have that coincide with an "attacking", "spread-the-defense" philosophy? Aren't you going to end up taking a lot more risk if you are sending more players out into patterns?

DS:  If you do it in a smart way. If you do it intelligently and you train the quarterback and the quarterback is efficient - whether you put five guys out or you have seven- or eight-man protection, your quarterback is trained to be efficient with the ball. Your wide receivers are efficient with their route-running and they are good after the catch, which is one thing we are going  to make great strides in this year and they will kind of go hand-in-hand! Not to be overly vague about it, but when you look at the history not just of this offense, but what Coach Harbaugh and I did at [the University of] San Diego - the "West Coast offense" or whatever you want to call it... With any offense that you run, if you are good at it, you're going to score points and win games. The point is to get better. The point is, we won four games. It wasn't enough. We had our hands on two games that were right there for us to take and we didn't close the door. We didn't close the door against TCU and we had our hands on two balls against Notre Dame at the end of the game! 

TB: We can't be throwing the ball into Owen's (Marecic) back. Not blaming the particular quarterback, blaming the position perhaps...

DS: Well, once again, everything trickles down. That wasn't actually the quarterback's fault. There are a lot of things that happened that. Look, I know we focus on the details, but we, the coaches and players, have the same desires as everyone else that loves Stanford football. We understand why certain things didn't happen, but we still want the results. It doesn't matter that we improved a lot from the year before. We didn't reach our goal. Our goal is to play in bowl games. Our goal is to be not just prolific, but  to get to the point where you can put the film on and you'll sit at the edge of your seat and you say "Wow, these guys are really on top of it, they are playing great!"

TB: Does that mean you buy into the very high ceiling for Stanford Football? You don't feel that we are limited to perennial mediocrity here based on the much-discussed recruiting limitations? The famous "buy-in" to playing BCS-caliber football - can you build a BCS-caliber offense at Stanford by 2010?

DS:  I'll say this. We get that question from recruits and high school coaches, people that are trying to get an idea of where this program is headed and what the possibilities are. And I tell them it was nine years ago that Stanford played in the Rose Bowl and when I played here we ended up being #9 in the nation at one point in time and beat Penn State 24-3 in a major bowl game. Yeah, it's recruiting, but we don't have "handcuffs" in recruiting, we have "guidelines!" We find the right guys! As our last class came together, as this class is coming together, we are finding those guys and they are getting the idea of where Stanford Football is headed. That's when we find those "Glyn Milburns". When Stanford is going in the right direction, those Glyn Milburns come here. Those "John Lynches" look at this place and say "Hey that's where I want to be!" That's been what Coach Harbaugh has been fighting for since we've been here - getting this program back to the point of respectability, to where a great scholar-athlete coming out of high school says "Where else can I go? There is no place else that is for me!" When this program is down, those guys...settle. 

TB: They settle because they want to be in a "BCS-caliber" situation?

DS:  Right. But they also want the top flight education. And when this program is down, they can't have it all, couldn't make that same decision.

TB:  Are you then saying "If we build it, they will come?"

DS:  Absolutely! And the process is ongoing. Everyone around the program, the players in the program are starting to feel it, starting to sense it, feeling that this is why we came here - we are getting the best education in the world and we are playing top-flight football - and it's ascending.

Editor's Note: Part II of our three-part interview with Coach David Shaw will be forthcoming shortly.

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