Success redefined: Comparing David Shaw to past Stanford football coaches

October 3, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 3, 2013

Stanford football fans are living in an unprecedented era of success. And as I blogged just the other day, the squad is poised to have yet another outstanding season.

I’ve enjoyed (and endured) a number of Cardinal campaigns, and nothing but nothing compares to the run the team has experienced since the start of the 2010 season. Stanford is 39-5 over that stretch, with a 2-1 record in Bowl Championship Series postseason games.

I’ve become interested lately in the accomplishments of current head coach David Shaw, a 1994 Stanford grad who took the job when Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers after the 2010 season. Yes, Harbaugh obviously laid the foundation for Shaw; without Harbaugh, Shaw would not have enjoyed as much success as he’s had.

But don’t slight Shaw. The first-time head coach has won 27 of his first 31 games, which makes for a winning percentage of .871. That’s a mark only three Stanford coaches have exceeded.

The first man to do that was C.D. “Pop” Bliss, who went 8-0-1 (.944) in his only season — 1893, the third year Stanford played football. That record includes just two games against colleges that field Division I teams today: a 6-6 tie vs. Cal and a 40-0 lashing of Washington.

Floyd C. Brown went 37-4 (.892) from 1913 through 1916 — a period when Stanford had switched from playing football to rugby. Stanford went 5-1 vs. Cal, USC and Santa Clara under Brown. The team also faced opponents such as the Olympic Club, the Palo Alto Athletic Club, Presley’s All-Stars, the New Zealand All Blacks (as that national team is called, after its uniforms) and the Barbarians.

Jim Wylie actually went undefeated. However, he coached just one contest, a 15-11 victory over Santa Clara that constituted the sole football game Stanford played in 1917.

In other words, these coaches flourished in a sport that had little resemblance to modern college football. And since the end of World War I, only five Stanford coaches other than Shaw have won 60 percent or more of their games:

• C.E. “Gene” Van Gent, 1921, 4-2-2 (.625).

• Andrew Kerry IV, 1922-23, 11-7 (.611).

• Glenn “Pop” Warner, 1924-32, 71-17-8 (.781).

• Clark Shaughnessy 1940-41, 16-3 (.842).

• John Ralston, 1963-71, 55-36-3 (.601).

(Ralston’s Stanford staff, incidentally, featured an impressive roster of assistant coaches who would go on to lead NFL teams: Jim Mora, Mike White, Rod Rust, Stanford alumnus Ray Handley, Dick Vermeil and, last but not at all least, Bill Walsh.)

Shaw, of course, is a third of the way through his third season as the Cardinal head coach. He’s coached almost twice as many games (31) as Shaughnessy (19) and is the first Stanford coach to finish multiple seasons with double-digit wins.

Since Shaughnessy led Stanford to a 10-0 record and an unofficial national championship in 1940, the team has won 10 or more games just four times:

• 1992 — 10-3 under Walsh.

• 2010 — 12-1 under Harbaugh.

• 2011 — 11-2 under Shaw.

• 2012 — 12-2 under Shaw.

The numbers emphasize what every Stanford football booster already knew: These are heady times indeed for Cardinal fans.

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