Opinion: Harbaugh & Stanford

The Bootleg's Senior Associate Editor Stan DeVaughn offers his takes in a personal opinion piece that is sure to stimulate vibrant discussion. While our primary focus is on Sacramento State on Saturday, we can't afford not to focus some of our attention on important issues that will impact the long-term future of the program.

Harbaugh and Stanford:

he coach, the rumors, the mission and the money


Ready for that time of year again, fans?  The anticipation?  The suspense? The handicapping?


No, I'm not talking about the Pac-10 (soon-to-be-12) Run for the Roses.  I'm talking about one of college football's favorite rumors and grist for speculation:  The Harbaugh Watch.  "How-long" Harbaugh.  Whither Jimbo.  Where Will He Go and When Will We Know? 


This is an especially delectable pastime for the legion of Cardinal-diminishers in the Bay Area media.  You know who you are, you rumpled, ink-stained wretches. With every notch Stanford climbs into national prominence, the chorus kicks it up an equal notch. To wit, my experience the other night - a relatively high-decibel conversation during a return flight to the Bay Area the other the night. I overheard a couple of reasonably well-informed wags, not particularly deep in their cups, discussing the upcoming college football season. When the subject turned to Stanford, my attention turned into serious eavesdropping.


Think they were ruminating on Andrew Luck and the Card's shot at Pasadena? Hardly.


"The Michigan people I know have just about had it with (head coach) Rich Rodriguez," said one.  "They're just waiting for the right time to hire Harbaugh".  "Yeah," the other one replied. "Makes perfect sense.  Guy deserves it".


"Perfect sense".  "Guy deserves it".  This, my fellow Stanford fans, in five words at 25,000 feet, is the great quandary, the great sticking point and heartburn of The Program today.  At least to those of us suffering the insufferable, same-old-same-old from an ever-growing peanut gallery of experts on the coaching carousel that has been perceived as Stanford Football. Same as it ever was, sadly. Get a coach whose record peaks over the .500 mark and the next thing you know, he's the subject of media speculation on when he's out the Stanford door. How ya gonna keep him down on the far, after all?


I mean, come on! Perfect sense?  Guy deserves it?   So exactly what, in this popular-imagination mindset, do Stanford fans deserve -- yet another new coach primed for his audition for prime time?  


So what are we, Oakland A's baseball?  If you suck, you're outta here, but if you're great, you're gone too? Thanks a lot.


The hope here, needless to say, is that this scenario doesn't turn out to be the case. We hope (actually, we've begun to pray regularly) that Jim Harbaugh is the guy with the personality, temperament, style and vision  willing to stick this one out, a la the legendary names in the college game. The hope is that Harbs gets Stanford. Why the heck not? He tells everyone that listens what a freakin' paradise he is living in. He knows the grind of the game in other parts of the land and the darker side of the business in places like Ann Arbor. And other stops on the career path. He now plies his craft in lotus land, just this side of Nirvana, right? Guy's found his bliss, right? Uh, well, better strike that last sentence since it carries some baggage.

It is imperative that the powers-that-be keep a close eye on the ball, so to speak. It's the elephant in the room known as Arrillaga Center. It is, at the very least, a serious PR issue with potentially negative and therefore harmful implications for Stanford.  "PR" issues are not trivial.  Go ask any store or restaurant owner who's even been called out on Yelp or Angie's List. For that matter, ask President Obama's predecessor.


Negative implications?   Well, yes, insofar as sustaining the lustre of Stanford football.  Why?  Pretty obvious, really.  Think recruiting.  Think ticket sales.  If the popular perception - which is based on empirical evidence, BTW - is that Stanford simply is not a place where a truly successful young football coach would ever want to hang around long enough to grow old and build a truly successful career, and if none ever do, what the hell's the program's alternative?  Go out, yet again, in search of a "Moneyball" breed of untested (read: obscure and underpaid) coach and then pray he has the kind of success that will (a) win games, build buzz, attract elite football athletes and (b) put posteriors in the seats, only to (c) attract the attention and contract offers from the Big Boyz of the college game?  Swell.  Is this what builds the fan base and fills the stadium year-in, year-out, and attracts the high-caliber recruits who will allow Stanford to maintain a consistently competitive level of play? To ask the question is to answer it.


Here's a point to this palaver and it is addressed to the full complement of those venerable power-that-be on and around campus. This includes, but is not limited to Messrs. Bowlsby and Arrillaga, assorted deep pockets, and representatives of the University community-at-large with sensitivity (and biases) when it comes to compensation for the likes of a football coach. There is one way, and one way only, to squelch the rumors and squash the rumor-mongers. Those familiar with the screed in this space know what this is: Stanford must, once and for all, at long last, transform its noble self into one of the popularly perceived "Big Boyz". Become a "Noble Big Boy".  I said it was simple, not easy. Or cheap. But as John Arrillaga would tell any do-it-yourself-er planning to add a shiny new wing or new landscaping - nothing of lasting quality is ever done on the cheap. 


Let's be clear. This isn't about head-coach enrichment, the "Texas-izing" of Stanford, or the stature diminishment of academic department heads. The Program, as we gleefully toast after each glorious victory, has traveled a vast distance since the Harbaugh Hire™ just four years ago -- perhaps the best pick since Joe Ruetz's offer to a then-relatively untested 47-year-old named Walsh.  To regress is unthinkable -- to the fans, anyway. Here's hoping the powers-that-be grasp the utter ignobility of regression. Not to mention the humiliation of empty seats in a beautiful stadium no longer cavernous enough to accommodate tarp. Let's consider the art of the possible when it comes to making Jim Harbaugh's tenure as long as it is distinguished in the annals of Stanford Football.


What's your deal, Stanford?


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