The David Shaw era at Stanford is over.
Shaw announced after the Cardinal’s final game of the season, a 35-26 loss to BYU, that he would step down. He told reporters that he has no desire to coach somewhere else right now.
“This is a decision that was really made this week,” he said. “Two weeks ago, I never would have thought we’d be having this conversation right now. But really, the last three, four days, a lot of prayer, conversations with my wife, Kori, and this one phrase just kept coming to me: It’s time. It’s time. This program is in a better position than it looks.”
Shaw said he made the decision in recent days, but the possibility had been discussed in coaching circles for weeks. It is not believed he would have been fired. This was truly his call.
Shaw’s tenure ends with a 96-54 record, with three Pac-12 championships, two Rose Bowl wins and six top-20 finishes. But 2022 was Stanford’s third consecutive full season with four or fewer wins (the Cardinal also went 4-2 in 2020). The program had fallen off in a big way. The 1-8 Pac-12 record this year was the team’s worst since 2006, the year before Jim Harbaugh took over. The book on the Harbaugh/Shaw era has now officially closed, with the program falling back towards where it started.
So how good is the Stanford job? What names could get in the mix? Here are the factors to keep in mind.
Stanford’s place in college football has changed
Stanford and other high-academic schools have long had the disadvantage (in the college football sense) of their admission standards. Shaw said many times that recruits don’t know until December if they can even get into Stanford. With the early signing period and now transfer windows, that crunch has become even more prevalent. A decade ago, Shaw spoke out against the early signing period, but it came to be and Stanford had to adjust. The new transfer rules and upcoming windows have made it even tougher for Stanford. It’s easy to lose players and hard to add them at a place like this.
Stanford is also not very active in the name, image and likeness world. The fan passion is not there, as evidenced by the small crowds year after year. It’s harder to raise small-dollar NIL donations with people who don’t want to play that game. Stanford has more than enough rich donors to step up if they need to — even Shaw’s job title has an endowment — but it’s harder to make it work for NIL, especially when the pool of potential players is smaller. After the BYU loss, Shaw said there had been discussions with the administration about being more open in that world.
“Excited about the conversations that we’ve had on campus with our administration, with the athletic director Bernard Muir, finding ways to utilize the transfer portal the Stanford way,” Shaw said Saturday. “You have to be active in the transfer portal nowadays to be competitive. Proud of our president, (Marc) Tessier-Lavigne, being open to that, conversations with Rick Shaw, dean of admissions, and open to it and finding a way to do it. We’ve talked about NIL. We’ve talked about a lot of things.”
The 2022 season also showed that winning at a high-academic school is still possible. Duke went 8-4 in Mike Elko’s first season, and Vanderbilt had its most wins since 2018.
There is still a lot of talent
Several agents remarked throughout the season that there was more talent on the Stanford team than its record indicated. The Cardinal kept losing games to teams with fewer NFL players.
Indeed, Stanford is fourth in the Pac-12 in 247Sports’ Team Talent rankings, ahead of UCLA and Utah. There were 21 former four-star recruits on the roster this season. What went wrong? The 2019 firing of head strength coach Shannon Turley, who joined the program with Harbaugh in 2006, is one thing pointed to as a factor in the start of the downfall. The COVID-19 era also began right after that, and it caused more issues for Stanford with its location in the Bay Area, and then transfer changes began as well. Whatever the reason, the player development has not been the same and the program never recovered.
The question now, however, is how many players will stay at Stanford and if some will jump into the transfer portal.
Stanford has the ability to pay big
Shaw’s salary was believed to be around $6.8 million. That was the highest in the Pac-12 for a period of time but fell behind Lincoln Riley at USC this year.
The Cardinal have the money to lure someone away from a good position if they believe Stanford can get back to the glory days of a decade ago.
So what names could get in the mix?
Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren would keep the program in the family. He was a Stanford assistant from 2011 to 2017 before heading to Rice to work for AD Joe Karlgaard, a former Stanford associate AD. Bloomgren went to Rice looking to implement a similar kind of program in Houston at a high-academic school. But it hasn’t really worked and Bloomgren is on the hot seat there. He has yet to post a winning season in five years, although the 5-7 record this season was the program’s best since 2015 and the Owls could still make a bowl. But would a coach who can’t win in Conference USA win in the Pac-12?
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Derek Mason was a Stanford assistant from 2010 to 2013, including two years as defensive coordinator. He then spent seven years as Vanderbilt’s head coach. He reached two bowl games but was 27-55 overall and fired after an 0-8 start to the 2020 season. He knows Stanford and he knows how to be a head coach at a high-academic school. But his Oklahoma State defense fell from No. 9 in scoring defense to No. 93 in his first season. Mason was also in the mix at Arizona State before the job went to Kenny Dillingham.
Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was Harbaugh’s tight ends coach at Stanford from 2009 to 2010, before following him to the San Francisco 49ers. Roman has been in the mix for multiple NFL and college head coaching jobs in the past. He’s spent the past six years with the Baltimore Ravens, helping develop Lamar Jackson into an MVP-caliber player. The questions would be the fact that those two years at Stanford are his only two in college football, and the timing of the NFL schedule could make it difficult to leave.
Former Virginia and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has experience winning at places with high or unique standards. He’s 135-81 as a head coach, including 34-28 in his final five years at UVa. He’s a defensive coach by trade, although Virginia had one of the most explosive passing offenses in the country in his final years there. The 56-year-old Mendenhall stepped away from Virginia on his own last year but made sure to say it wasn’t a retirement. He’s been in the mix for the Colorado job.
Sacramento State head coach Troy Taylor is 29-7 in three seasons, including an 11-0 start to this season ahead of the FCS playoffs. Taylor has Pac-12 experience, spending 2017 to 2018 as Utah’s offensive coordinator. He has Bay Area experience as a Cal assistant from 1996 to 1999, and he was a high school coach in the Sacramento area from 2000 to 2015. This year’s Sacramento State team is fourth in the FCS in scoring at 41.5 points per game. The last time Stanford hired an FCS head coach, it worked out with Harbaugh. Elsewhere in the FCS, Weber State head coach Jay Hill is 68-38 in nine seasons, including a 10-2 record this year. He took over a 2-10 program and is likely heading for a fifth top-10 finish in six years. Before Weber State, Hill spent 13 years as a Utah assistant.
Former Texas head coach Tom Herman is a California native and has looked to get back into college coaching, as he has been in the mix at Colorado and USF. He’s 54-22 as a head coach and never had a losing season in six years, finishing in the Top 25 four times.
It’s worth giving Chris Petersen the call The former Boise State and Washington head coach is 147-38 as a head coach and took UW to the College Football Playoff. But he stepped away after the 2019 season due to burnout. He returned back to the college football world as an analyst at Fox, and he’s been consulted on coaching searches, so he’s not far from the game. Petersen has a curious and thoughtful mind, like Mendenhall, and Stanford could offer him an environment few places can. But only Petersen knows if he’s willing to take on the all-encompassing job of being a football coach again.
Would Duke head coach Mike Elko be willing to leave after one season? He’s never coached west of Texas, but his 8-4 debut season with the Blue Devils was as impressive a coaching job as anyone in the country. He’s continued to rise up the ranks and has done a good job everywhere he’s been.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson has almost exclusively coached in the East, but he’s won everywhere he’s been, from Fordham to Richmond to Bowling Green to Wake Forest, winning at least eight games twice at each stop. Wake Forest is a small school with tough academics, so Clawson would fit the profile for Stanford. This year’s Cardinal team also adopted Wake Forest’s Slow Mesh offense in an attempt to change things up. Clawson has stuck around at Wake Forest longer than people expected, and he signed a “long-term” extension last November after reaching the ACC title game, but perhaps Stanford could pique his interest.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters is a former Stanford player and could get a look as well. He was UCF’s offensive coordinator for its undefeated 2017 season and followed Scott Frost to Nebraska. He spent the past three seasons with the Bengals, which developed one of the top passing offenses in the NFL.
(Top photo: John Hefti / USA Today)