In his third season, head coach Jim Harbaugh placed Stanford on the NCAA football map. The Card finished tied for second in the Pac-10 behind an 8-5 overall record and were ranked as high as No. 14 in the AP rankings.
Back-to-back wins over Oregon and USC were the highlight of the year and Toby Gerhart undoubtedly deserved the Heisman Trophy. Of course, that award has turned into a beauty pageant and, unfortunately for Stanford fans, Gerhart did not play for a Top 10 team. The forgettable moment in 2009 came with under two minutes to play in the Big Game. Harbaugh and the Cardinal coaching staff for some reason elected to throw the ball twice on first and 10 from the Cal 13-yard line after being setup by a historical Toby Gerhart catch and run. The result of the second pass from Andrew Luck was an interception and Stanford lost the battle for The Axe, 34-28.
Aside from that game (that may still be giving some of you nightmares), and maybe the Wake Forest meltdown, it was a great season for the Stanford football program in 2009, and expectations are very lofty heading into this year.
"I'm super-excited about this spring, probably even more so than the first year I got here," Harbaugh said. "I'm excited with some of the changes we made in our coaching staff."
Harbaugh lauded his entire staff, which he estimated had 100 years of NFL coaching experience, and said it was easier to lure in the new additions after the school provided a substantial increase to the assistant coaches' salary pool.
Greg Roman became the "associate head coach" during this staff overhaul, which means he is second in command. If Harbaugh can't perform his duties for whatever reason, it will be Roman.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was also introduced at the presser. Harbaugh mentioned his former Ravens players referred to him as "Vic Fangio – football specialist."
Fangio characterized his defensive identity as an aggressive one that aims to bring pressure.
"It's been a pressure-oriented defense in the past, but it will have to be tailored to the players we have here," he said. "It will be a 3-4 base but a hybrid 3-4 where we're able to do a lot of stuff within that personnel."
What about the play-caller you might ask? Everyone wants to know who will be dialing up the offense.
"We did it last year as a group – myself, Greg Roman and David Shaw," said Harbaugh. "If we do it that way this year, that's the way we'll do it.
"If we went out there tomorrow and played a game I would have Greg Roman calling the plays. Whatever play is called, it will come from us as a coaching staff.
"If you look at our coaching staff, there are five guys that have the ability to coordinate an offense – Greg Roman, Dave Shaw, Ron Turner, Tim Drevno and myself."
Essentially Harbaugh isn't really saying, as always. It could be a play-calling by committee approach or it could just depend on the game situation.
As Harbaugh attempted to focus the topic of conversation more toward the new coaches, the question of replacing Gerhart obviously came up.
"We can't replace him; we will not be able to replace Toby Gerhart next year," he said. "But I do believe we can replace his production in tandem. The guys that will be asked to do that are Jeremy Stewart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Usua Amanam."
Harbaugh hinted that he might rely heavily on a two-back set. He was not giving any indication of a depth chart heading into spring practice such as, who is the leading candidate to start at running back or who will back up Andrew Luck.
"Like all of our positions right now, this is a new year and new roles have to be earned," said Harbaugh. "I'm not going to put any kind of a time limit on when those positions will be solidified, we like competition around here and this sets up for that."
Like Gerhart before him, Gaffney is playing for the Stanford baseball team this season.
Harbaugh admits he is fine with a two-sport athlete but wants Gaffney at football practice if he isn't contributing on the Sunken Diamond.
"If he's just spitting seeds and saying, ‘humma humma batter' then we'd rather have him over in football practice," he said.
Gaffney can participate during spring but the NCAA only allows players to practice a total of 20 hours per week so the two teams will have to coordinate scheduling.
Harbaugh was a big proponent of two-way players last season and said a few guys will have a chance to play both ways again.
Alex Loukas could potentially be Luck's backup, but will be a starter at safety if the staff decides his skills are most needed on the defensive side of the ball.
Greg Roman mentioned that Ryan Hewitt will see some action at fullback this fall because of the team's abundance of tight ends.
Players that will be limited during spring ball are Amanan (foot), Corey Gatewood (ankle) and Trent Murphy (hernia). Geoff Meinken is still recovering from a torn ACL and will not participate in spring practice.
Matt Kopa is still waiting to receive a response from the NCAA on his eligibility after applying for a sixth-year medical redshirt.
The spring practice schedule will be released by the end of the week. The first practice is slated for Monday afternoon with the Cardinal and White Spring Game being held at Kezar Stadium on April 17 at Noon.
"I'm really excited about our spring game at Kezar – the cradle of Bay Area football," said Harbaugh. "This gives us an opportunity to play in front of our San Francisco alumni and let them know how much we want them involved in our program."
Admission to the game is free.
Your faithful Stanford football writer will be attending a few spring practices and wants to know what the grizzled Bootie veterans are dying to know about the new team. Please post any questions you might have on the message board under this topic.
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