David Shaw is undoubtedly the best coach in the PAC-12. No other current coach can compare accomplishments. Shaw has gone to four BCS bowls in five years and has won three conference championships. However, how does Shaw rank nationally? In a recent ranking by Athlon, David Shaw was considered the eighth best coach in college football. Eighth is reasonably right for Coach Shaw, but it can be argued as too low or too high. Overall, David Shaw is most definitely a top ten coach in college football.
Statistically, David Shaw ranks with the nation's best. Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh are two of the top three coaches according to Athlon, and Shaw has a better career win percentage than both Saban and Harbaugh. However, Saban has a weaker percentage because of his longer career which included turning around Alabama, and Harbaugh has a weaker percentage because he took over struggling Stanford and Michigan teams. Meanwhile, David Shaw did not need to turn around any program and has had a moderately short head coaching career. Thus, David Shaw has a better win percentage. Statistically, David Shaw can compare with top coaches, but he has not had to endure the same hardships.
Legendary and outstanding coaches rebuild football program's from the ground up. Jim Harbaugh had rebuilt the program for Stanford not Shaw. Shaw inherited an already great team and has merely kept it alive by keeping it as one of the nation's best but not the best. However by keeping Stanford as a powerhouse team, David Shaw has proven that he's a great coach who can compete with the outstanding ones. Secondly, legendary coaches can motivate players and change game plans during close games.
In past years, Stanford has had the potential to make the national championship but choked in multiple games. For example, Stanford failed to win an easy game against Washington in 2012 and Utah in 2013. In 2015 against Northwestern, Stanford seemed unmotivated throughout the game, yet David Shaw failed to inspire his players. Legendary and great coaches like Saban, Harbaugh, and Meyer likely would not have lost those three games against Washington, Utah, and Northwestern. Shaw does not (yet) fit the bill of a legendary and outstanding coach.
Athlon's top ten coaches are Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio, Bob Stoops, Gary Patterson, Jimbo Fisher, David Shaw, Dabo Swinney, and Brian Kelly. Saban, Meyer, and Harbaugh have set themselves as first tier coaches, but after those three, the rest of the top ten are pretty similar as the next tier coaches. If David Shaw can win a national championship, he might be able to jump into the same category as Saban, Meyer, and Harbaugh.