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Should Shaw Still Get a Pass?

After a horrid 2019 season, the only way to rebound is if we take a hard look at the coaching staff...

NCAA Football: UCLA at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

What’s left to say? Stanford football is a dumpster fire. The only four-leaf clovers remaining are the Notre Dame logos coming into town this Saturday. Stanford opened as a 16.5-point underdog to Notre Dame, and the worst part of the impending beatdown is that Stanford fully deserves it. Stanford is going into this weekend with the likes of UCONN, Tulsa, Kansas, Rutgers, and the rest of the bottom feeders of the college football world. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Old-school fans might say: “Welcome to Stanford football, where sustained success just isn’t possible and down years are inevitable.” And I’ve certainly seen bad football over the decades, but after a decade of dominance, a complete collapse is hard to watch.

I feel sorry for Shayne Skov. Skov is a Stanford great who came to Big Game as honorary team captain, hoping Stanford would win a record 10 axes in a row. Instead, Skov witnessed a pathetic performance against Cal. Skov never would have let this team fade into the sunset. He never would have allowed his defense to give up that last drive. But when Cal looked into the eyes of the Stanford players at Big Game, they didn’t see the menace of Skov. They saw... 2019 Stanford—and proceeded to stampede all over it.

Let me be the first to say that I get that hiring and firing coaches is never an easy decision—it’s also a decision that you might regret in the future. Hiring Walt Harris was a regret. Cal firing Jeff Tedford and USC letting Ed Orgeron go are probably regrets, too. Right now, Stanford has a coach who has more wins at Stanford than Pop Warner, Bill Walsh, Tyrone Willingham, and Jim Harbaugh. He’s also a Stanford alumnus. Put simply, he is all but tenured. Even so, I think granting immunity to even someone with the pedigree of Shaw is a dangerous precedent.

Let’s look at some great college coaches and compare. Although I sometimes question if he’s Lucifer incarnate, let’s nonetheless start with the GOAT: Nick Saban. Saban has NEVER finished under .500. Dabo Swinney went 19-15 in his first three years. He’s never finished a regular season under .500—and, even including bowl games, has only had one season that finished 6-7. Since that season, Swinney is 108-15, has never finished worse than 2nd in league play, experienced multiple playoff appearances, two National Championships, and hasn’t lost since January 1st, 2018. “Ok, that’s real fair to use the two best coaches in the game. What else ya got?” Ok, I’ll use two coaches that compare to Stanford.

  • Coach A was 78-17 going into 2017. Multiple big bowl games and even won a national championship. Coach A went 5-6 and was feeling the heat and left town. In the two years since, that school has gone 11-12. Coach A has gone 16-8 at his new school.
  • Coach B is 105-43. He has only two seasons under .500 with a pair of big bowl game appearances. Coach B has 6 seasons of 10+ wins in 12 years of collegiate coaching. Coach B is 9-2 this season and yet, is on the hot seat at his own alma mater.

Sound familiar? Coach A is Jimbo Fisher and Coach B is Jim Harbaugh. Both have felt the hot seat—and both got better afterward. Ask yourself, shouldn’t Mr. Shaw be grateful for the rare ones like me who are calling for his head?

Perhaps firing Shaw is a bit drastic after one losing season. I don’t want to end up losing a great coach—especially if he ends up going somewhere else to extraordinary success. But he does need to feel a seat beginning to get warm to motivate him to get off the hamster wheel of the last few seasons. It starts with cleaning house. And don’t go back to hiring within: it isn’t working—we need to bring in new coaches with new ideas.

This is a period of transition for both me and Stanford football. My roaring 20s will end in 2020 as we journey into a new era of Stanford football. Our program is going to be different. I don’t know if it will be better or worse, but next year is a landmark season that will determine Stanford’s direction. As if to herald the new age, Stanford is already considering changes to their season-ticket philosophies, in-game music, and sounds. But what will come with the new age? Will other schools poach our recruits? Or will we find a way to recruit at a high level? Will we finally get new coaches who can get the job done? Or will the offense continue to degrade? And who will be the QB in 2020? When we reach 2020, Stanford will once again be 0-0—its future unwritten. Until then, we go into Saturday expecting a beating.