On Sunday, Dan Orlovsky became the first Indianapolis Colts quarterback other than Peyton Manning to win a game since Jim Harbaugh in 1997. Someday, at least 14 years from now if we're lucky, Harbaugh will be the answer to another trivia question: who was the last Stanford head coach, other than David Shaw, to win a game? (Let's hope it doesn't take Shaw's successor 14 games to get off the schnide.)
Before the season, there were some questions about whether Stanford could compete for another BCS bowl bid with Shaw at the helm instead of Harbaugh. In hindsight, worrying about the head coaching transition was mostly a waste of time. Shaw had spent several years on Harbaugh's staff, he knew the players and they knew him, and the Cardinal was returning a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, including a Heisman runner-up at quarterback in Andrew Luck who led the team to a 12-1 record and a win in the Orange Bowl the previous year.
Here's what I told California Golden Blogs in the spring about the transition:
The expectations will be sky high this season -- certainly higher than they ever were for Harbaugh -- and if Stanford stumbles early in the season, the blame could rightly or wrongly fall on Shaw. It's a stretch to say that Stanford fans have forgotten about Harbaugh, but I think a lot of us are so wrapped up in the excitement of who's returning that it's easy to overlook who's gone.
Stanford didn't stumble early in the season, but the Cardinal hit a speed bump when Shayne Skov went down with a season-ending knee injury against Arizona. Shaw helped rally the team and other guys stepped up. After Stanford's epic, triple-overtime win at USC, Luck told us everything we needed to know about how the transition was going when he embraced and lifted his coach off the ground in celebration.
When Oregon visited the Farm in mid-November, a Pac-12 Championship and BCS title game appearance were both within reach. And then they were gone. Would Stanford have had a better chance against Oregon with Harbaugh at the helm? You could argue that, but I don't think the outcome on that night, with the Cardinal dropping passes left and right and Luck being pressured into uncharacteristic mistakes, would've been different.
The Cardinal shook off the loss to the Ducks and bounced back with wins over Cal and Notre Dame. One week later, Stanford was rewarded with its second consecutive BCS bowl berth. From a wins and losses standpoint, the transition from Harbaugh to Shaw was seamless, even if the Cardinal rarely looked as dominant this year as they were at the end of last season. Things will only get more difficult next year, when Luck and several other players move on to the NFL, but we'll worry about that more after the Fiesta Bowl. If Shaw's first year and the recruiting class his staff is assembling are any indication, we shouldn't need to worry about finding a new head coach for some time.
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