STANFORD — David Shaw helped build Stanford into a physical powerhouse that was one of the top college football programs in the nation last decade.
Shaw now believes a new coach will be best positioned to return the Cardinal to that level, leading to his decision to step down after a 16-year run on The Farm, including the last 12 as the head coach who won the most games in school history.
“It’s time. It’s time for me to step away. Time for Stanford to find that next person to lead,” Shaw said at a news conference Monday, two days after announcing his decision following a season-ending loss to BYU.
“I hope the next person beats (our accomplishments). I really do. … We’ve got a lot of great young people here, a lot of recruits I know are waiting to see what’s going to happen. But this place is special. This place is magical and I can’t wait for Stanford to be on top again.”
But pulling off a similar turnaround to the one that started when Shaw was an assistant on Jim Harbaugh’s first staff in 2007 and then built on as head coach starting in 2011 could be even more difficult now.
The Cardinal are 14-28 over the last four seasons as the program has struggled to keep up in a rapidly changing college football landscape with players transferring more freely and earning money for name, image, and likeness.
“Stanford can be successful in football on the national stage and has done it before, and we’ll do it again,” athletic director Bernard Muir said.
Muir said the university remains committed to fielding a top-flight football program on par with its dozens of other teams that consistently compete for national championships.
Muir said the administration is figuring out how it can utilize NIL and the transfer portal to help in that regard without violating Stanford’s principles.
“We know others are a little more aggressive in that space right now, and we just have to find what is the right fit for Stanford,” Muir said. “Striking the appropriate balance is important. As it relates to the transfer portal. I think we can dabble in it. We’re not going to build an entire roster from transfers. That’s not Stanford.”
While many of Stanford’s rivals have had success by bringing in several transfers each year, the Cardinal had only one on the roster this year in defensive back Patrick Fields.
Stanford lost two undergraduate transfers this year in running backs Austin Jones (Southern California) and Nathaniel Peat (Missouri) and finished the season with converted safety Mitch Leigber as the only healthy running back.
Shaw said adding only five key transfers could be the difference in success and the struggles Stanford had this year.
“Add a few more to certain positions and that changes the fortunes of the football team,” he said. “I think that this next group is going to have that opportunity to really take where we are now and build a winning program.”
The Cardinal had a winning program not too long ago. Harbaugh took over a one-win team from 2006 and went 12-1 and finished fourth in the nation in his final season in 2010.
Shaw built on from there with a physical style dubbed “Intellectual Brutality” and finished his tenure with a 96-54 record.
In his first five seasons in charge, Stanford was tied for the sixth most wins in the nation, went to three Rose Bowls and went to another BCS game by dominating in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
That began to deteriorate in recent years and then bottomed out in the last two when an injury-depleted roster posted back-to-back nine-loss seasons for the first time in school history.
The Cardinal ranked near the bottom in the nation in both run offense and defense as their days of physically imposing their will on the opposition were long in the past.
“This team’s not that far away,” Shaw said. “We had a lot of injuries this year. If any of our top three running backs were healthy, I think we’re getting ready for a bowl game right now. I truly believe that.”
Shaw was clear that he is not retiring from coaching but has no immediate plans to look for another job. He has worked in the past on the NFL Network’s draft coverage and could do more television work while also recharging and spending more time with family.
Muir now is in charge of his first search for a football coach since being hired at Stanford in 2012 before the start of Shaw’s second season.
Muir said the search has started but will be deliberate.
“There’s not a set list of criteria other than we want to have somebody that values the balance between athletics and academics, which is really important at this place,” he said. “Do it with integrity, which is what David did for 12 years here as head coach. We want to grow and allow our program to continue to thrive and compete at a national level. So that’s what we’re looking for. I do believe, based on the interest thus far, we’re going to be able to find that.”
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