Stanford fans should be veterans at this, by now, even if it still feels foreign.
"This" is the rumors that currently surround the Stanford coaching staff-specifically, whether or not
offensive coordinator Andrew Luck Director of Offense Pep Hamilton and defensive coordinator Derek Mason may be in line for head coaching gigs elsewhere. And if the final two years of Jim Harbaugh's tenure didn't prepare the Cardinal fanbase, nothing will.
Who can forget the mass hysteria after a picture of Coach in a Kansas sweater surfaced during the infamous Jayhawk rumors of 2009? And then one of the wildest coaching pursuits in a generation, as Harbaugh was courted by just about everyone ever in 2010? And the post-Orange Bowl interviews, which focused only on his next move? Success breeds these situations, which is almost the "can't have your cake and eat it too" side of college football. But it's not all bad: having various coaches mentioned seriously for jobs is an indicator of a status of a program. It's rarely if ever good to lose a talented coach, but you'd rather your staff be a part of the national conversation than not.
And that's exactly where Stanford is, because as the regular season ends and coaches across the country are shown the door, a certain crop of current college assistants come up for jobs nationwide, and the Cardinal's coordinators are no exception.
Pep Hamilton to North Carolina State. Derek Mason to Colorado. Either one of them to Cal. Whether or not these rumors have merit remains to be seen, but both the Bears and the Buffs have intimate knowledge of Hamilton and Mason's abilities, and Hamilton did grow up in North Carolina. What is known, though: both coordinators are young, untainted by past head coaching gigs and have garnered lavish praise for their performances this season. It's a potent trifecta. Mason, a Broyles Award finalist, engineered one of the most imposing defenses in the country--Stanford leads the nation in sacks, tackles for a loss and is tops against the rush--while Hamilton successfully led the Cardinal offense through the transition out of the Andrew Luck era. Stanford was largely picked to regress this year, and their Pac-12 Championship Game berth is due in no small part to David Shaw's top lieutenants. If Colorado, N.C. State, Cal and/or others are interested in one or both of the Cardinal's coordinators, it's with good reason.
(Quick aside: after the debacle that was the Jon Embree press conference Monday, it's hard to imagine any "hot" coach electing to take the Colorado job. Read the full details here, courtesy of Ralphie Report. It's brutal.)
And the rumors don't stop with Mason and Hamilton. Even newly reelected Pac-12 Coach of the Year David Shaw has seen his name come up in speculation. Peter King, who called Shaw "the leader in the clubhouse for the hottest NFL coaching candidate from college football" after the USC victory, followed up his earlier proclamation on Monday when he named Shaw as one of the top candidates for NFL jobs from the collegiate ranks. While Shaw may indeed be in high standing in professional front offices, color me unconcerned. Shaw is not leaving his alma mater; the common consensus is that he'll be at Stanford for as long as they'll have him. There's little to make anyone think otherwise. This largely speaks to the earlier point: even if there's only a minute chance Shaw will leave, it's still good for Stanford's national reputation to have his name thrown around.
Back to Hamilton and Mason. Their potential departure(s) would leave Stanford fans understandably distraught, but the team has been down this path before. It's worth remembering the level of turnover that the Cardinal coaching staff has seen since the beginning of the Harbaugh Administration. Think about the defensive coordinators alone. Scott Shafer was on the Farm for the 2007 season before leaving for the same job at Michigan. He was replaced by Ron Lynn and Andy Buh, who co-headed the unit for two years before Buh left for Nevada and Lynn moved over to player development. Vic Fangio elevated the defense to the 3-4 and new heights before leaving for the Niners after a single season. Mason and Jason Tarver took over in 2011, only to have Tarver quickly exit stage Oakland. And now Mason coaches Stanford's defenders. Since Harbaugh took over, the defense has only had the same coordinator(s) for two straight seasons. And yet, with each coaching change, the defense has improved. There are, of course, a myriad of factors that go into this--there is a fair discrepancy in the talent level between this year's Cardinal and the group Harbaugh/Shafer took over--but the point remains: Stanford has not inherently suffered from this rapid turnover.
Consider another position group: the offensive line, which has become the staple of Cardinal football. Since Harbaugh began on the Farm, the coaches: Chris Dalman, Tim Drevno, Greg Roman, Mike Bloomgren, Ron Crook. And yet, Stanford doesn't look like it's going to stop producing NFL talent from that unit any time soon.
The point isn't to discount the success of Hamilton, Mason or any of their predecessors, or to sugarcoat the possibility of their departures through Cardinal lenses. Far, far from it. Losing either Mason or Hamilton (or, God forbid, both), would be devastating, especially if they take Pac-12 coaching jobs. But as Stanford continues to establish itself on the national stage, its ability to attract quality coaches only increases and, to date, the "next man up" approach hasn't failed the Cardinal.
Stanford fans may be used to change, at this point, but it'd be best not to have to test that luck.