With the triumph's of Richard Sherman and Andrew Luck, much more attention has been paid to the Cardinal in recent years. David Shaw currently sits at the helm of the school's most important athletic department (depending on who you ask), but before him came 30 other men. We (mainly you), don't have enough time to highlight the stories of every coach, but through hours and hours of reading, I believe we've narrowed the list down to 5.
So without further adieu, here are what we here at Rule of Tree (or just me really), believe the top 5 head coaches in the history of Stanford football are.
5. Tyrone Willingham (1995-2001)
Willingham probably had one of the hardest jobs in all of sports, not just the NCAA. At least at the start. When you consider he was the first head coach to enter the program after the legendary Bill Walsh. His appointment was unexpected, the results he garnered from the program? I'm willing to guess school administrators would tell you not so much. In his six seasons, Willingham led the Cardinal to four bowl games, including a Rose Bowl in 1999. That same 1999 team was the school's first outright Pac-10 Title in 29 years. In 2000, he was presented with the Eddie Robinson Coach of Distinction Award. The 44 total wins Willingham collected place him third amongst Stanford head football coaches, and were the most for a Stanford coach since John Ralston left the program.
4. John Ralston (1963-1971)
Oddly enough, Ralston is the next man on our list. He sits second all-time with 55 wins as a head coach. Perhaps the most storied of all the seasons Ralston coached, were his last two. In these final two seasons, he coached the then Stanford Indians to back-to-back outright Pac-8 titles and back-to-back Rose Bowl victories. In 1970, his coaching attributes were displayed for the public eye, when his quarterback, Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy. Ralston's success followed him from The Farm when he departed to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos in 1972, delivering the franchise their first winning season in the organization's history. To cap it all off, Ralston was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
3. Jim Harbaugh (2007-2010)
If anyone tells you Harbaugh doesn't belong on this list, they are lying to you. Plain and simple.
Harbaugh's story of success with the University of San Diego, Stanford and the 49ers is well documented. During his four-year tenure on The Farm, he increased Stanford's winning total each season, culminating in a 11-1 finish in 2010. He would then go on to coach the Cardinal to a 40-12 victory in the Orange Bowl, the school's first bowl championship since 1996. This season also equaled the most wins in a single season by any Stanford football coach ever. If his record and the school's first BCS Bowl aren't enough for you, he also produced two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates while with the program. Let's not forget how entertaining the heated battle he had with USC's head coach Pete Carroll was. He also collected the Woody Hayes Coach of the Year award during his final season.
2. Glen "Pop" Warner (1924-1932)
I won't pretend to completely understand the impact Warner had on the program, or the game for that matter. But based off public opinion, and from what I've read, he certainly belongs on this list, and maybe higher than I regard him. He coached the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl in three of his first four seasons, and a shared national title in 1926. That was an odd year for football, as the Cardinal shared the title with Alabama after tying them 7-7 in the Rose Bowl. Amongst his accomplishments as a coach, he is credited with several innovations that we see in the game. It is believed that Warner brought the screen pass, the spiral punt, single and double wing formations, the use of shoulder and thigh pads and designed helmets to the college game. I'm sure he saw his players longevity improve when those pads came around. But in all seriousness, he sits atop the all-time winners list for head coaches with 71 wins, and his nickname is something everyone is familiar with, especially if you played football as a child in the 21st century.
1. Bill Walsh (1977-1978; 1992-1992)
The name pretty much speaks for itself. I'm sure I'll get some people accusing me of 49er loyalty, and it might be partly true. Whatever genius Walsh brought with him to the 49ers, was developed during his time on The Farm in my opinion.
He'd start off by winning Pac-8 Coach of the year honors in 1977. During the first two seasons as head coach, Walsh led the Cardinal to consecutive bowl game victories. After these two, he of course left to become the 49ers head coach, where he cemented his football legacy, collected three Super Bowl championships, two NFL coach of the year awards, a career .609 winning percentage, and an NFL Hall of Fame induction.
After the days in San Francisco, Walsh came back to Stanford for another run. He kept his bowl streak alive, tying for the Pac-10 conference title. The Cardinal would also finish that season ranked ninth in the polls. It would be the only season during his second tenure worth remembering, and while Walsh may be ranked seventh all-time amongst fellow coaches with 34 wins, the impact Walsh had on the sport and the university are indisputable.