Aug. 26, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - The anticipation and excitement surrounding the start of a Stanford football season has perhaps never been higher. With a Heisman Trophy candidate returning to quarterback one of the nation's most explosive offenses, David Shawenters his first season as Stanford's head coach well-armed to meet the high expectations surrounding the 2011 Cardinal.
Mark Soltau sat down recently with The Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football for an exclusive 45-minute interview. With the season opener against San Jose State a week away, Shaw spoke candidly about his undergraduate days on The Farm, his influences, sounding boards and hopes for the season.
Shaw, a four-year letterwinner in football at Stanford, is a deep thinker. His father, Willie, was a two-term assistant coach for the Cardinal in 1974-76 and 1989-91 and the two are very close. David, who earned a sociology degree, spent nine years as an assistant coach in the NFL, before moving to the college ranks. He served as offensive coordinator at Stanford the last four years, and established school marks for scoring in 2009 and 2010. Last year, the Cardinal averaged 40.31 points a game, ninth-most in the nation, while amassing a school-record 524 points en route to a school-best 12-1 record.
Among the mementos and photographs in Shaw's office is a picture of the late Bill Walsh, who had a big impact on his playing and coaching life. A copy of Walsh's book, "Finding the Winning Edge,'' sits on his desk and is often used for reference.
Shaw, a father of three, knows big things are expected from his 2011 team and is ready for the challenge. In fact, he wouldn't want it any other way.
Let's talk about some of the coaches you have played for or worked with. Can you please describe their personalities and make ups, starting with Jon Gruden?
Intensity. A lot of it was in preparation in film work and analysis. The worst thing he ever made me do for a while was to be in the office before him. In order for me to beat him into the office like he told me I should since I was quality control and he was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, I had to make sure I was in the office by 3:45 a.m. so he could see me when he walked in at 4. Put it this way: I didn't see the inside of my apartment in Philadelphia very much.
Denny was a motivator. He'd do it in a positive way, he'd do it in a negative way, he'd do it any way to solicit the proper response from you. He'd recognize what the team needed to hear in order to get them to a place they needed to be.
Ridiculously well-organized. From soup to nuts, top to bottom. As my position coach here at Stanford, we were learning defensive fronts. Now, did we ever need to learn defensive fronts? No. But he wanted to make sure we were well-rounded football players and we knew everything that was going on. And then he hired me in Baltimore. I'll never forget at the end of my first season there, the first day after the game, we got the schedule for the entire off-season until training camp the next year. Every single day; everything mapped out; exactly what we're going to do, times, places, everything. And, it hit me: I was like, `You know what? That's an unbelievable thing to do for your staff." Now your staff can plan their world. And he would always say, "When you're working, you are here and you are working. And when you are gone, you are at home with your family. That was a great way to do it.
He was always the smartest person in the room. I saw him talk to our team; I saw him talk to other teams; I saw him talk to coaches, owners and general managers. It was always the same: he was in control and you knew he was right and he was telling people what they should do. He didn't mince words; he was direct. At the same time, after talking to all these important, famous people, he would come back and sit in his office, and if somebody needed five minutes, he'd close the door and give him five minutes, whether it was former all-pro player or a fourth-string guy on a team from 1977. It didn't matter. They were going to get his undivided attention.
He's a big reason why I got into coaching. So focused and undeterred. Players used to come up to me all the time, guys that he coached all over the place and used to say, "Ah, man, he was my favorite coach." That kind of personal legacy from people saying that he touched my life in a positive way makes me really proud.
Your dad doesn't miss many practices at Stanford. Does he have a role with the team?
The bottom line is he's my sounding board just to come by whenever he wants to come by. I'll lean on him at times.
Can you describe what the Stanford experience meant to you as an undergraduate?
It's so similar now to what it what was before. Of course, the campus changes all the time. The thing is, when you come to Stanford, the freshmen are a little intimidated because of the amount of people walking around campus saying, "I got in. How in the world did I get in?" And then you figure everybody is going to be too smart for you, and the classes are going to be too hard. And then as you get in and kind of talk to people and get to know some people, you realize lots of people felt the same way. The professors are not there to make it hard on you; they're there to help you and they want you to be successful. You're sitting in classes with people from anywhere and everywhere, and realize I'm just not like this other person from down the road, we're similar but from we're from different contexts.
When you received a football scholarship your freshman year, did you ever communicate with your donor?
I did: Peg Barnhardt. I'll never forget her. She is deceased, but I just reconnected with her son and his wife. They're relatively local and we're going to keep in touch. I told them how grateful I was to reconnect. I wrote (Peg) a thank you note. She was a sweet lady.
How do you balance the high expectations this year with a strong team and a Heisman Trophy favorite?
I try to find a bunch of different ways to get the point across to our team that we're not going to shy away from expectations. Those expectations were earned by last year's team. This year's team, we're going to concentrate on our performance, effort and execution. That's what we earn - what happens in the future. We have enough leadership on our team that we're not sitting there with pie in the sky. We're looking at a lot of holes to fill and we've go to be ready to play against some great teams. This is going to be a physical season and these people are gunning for us and out to get us. We're on people's dartboards, which is great. It's what a successful season does to you. But at the same time, we're coming back with the same mentality. We're still hungry, we still like to play the physical game, we still like to mix it up, and we still like to play the tight games and play them well. All that fanfare is great, but we're concentrating on the work we have to do.
You helped recruit Andrew Luck. What don't we know about him?
One thing people don't talk about, aside from arm strength, mobility, football mind, and checks and audibles is that we put a lot on his plate. But everything he does he wants to do it all out and better than he did it the last time. That's the way he plays. That's the best part. If you have a team that you have to keep pushing and prodding from a coaching perspective, that's too hard. You can't win. Your best players also need to be pushing.
The next best thing about Andrew is how humble he is. He takes everything with the grain of salt. Everything that has been said and written about this kid is true. He takes it because it's going to get the team more attention. Every time he gets asked a question, he turns it and compliments other guys on the team. It's genuine, it's real. As much as he's done, he's turned down a lot of things that a lot of people don't know about, a lot of things that were glamorous or earned him more attention individually.
You have a reputation for being an intellectual. Rumor has it you used a picture of the Mona Lisa as a screen saver on your cell phone.
I did for a while, but I changed it. I'm a huge Leonardo Di Vinci fan. Everything he did he was good at. As an artist, an architect and an inventor. I think that's an admirable trait.
As undergraduate, did you favor the Dutch Goose or the Oasis?
Here's the thing, I've never had a drink of alcohol in my life. I've been to both. I would go when a bunch of the guys were going in the afternoon when we broke camp. I`d go for 20 minutes, then I'd leave. It just was never my thing. Pretty neutral. I've always been a homebody. When I wasn't doing something athletic or academic, I would go back to the dorm or go see a movie.
During fall camp, you often play loud music during practice. Is that to simulate crowd noise?
We've done it for crowd noise. It's interesting, when you play the music, the guys kind of get a little jazzed up but that doesn't last. But what it does is make them focus, communicate and listen to the quarterback. They have to listen intently at the line of scrimmage for guys making calls. It's almost like a built-in distraction to make them concentrate. We won't do it every day, but we'll do it periodically.
Who picks the music for the locker room?
We currently don't have music in the locker room. They have TVs. Typically, it's on one of the ESPN channels, so there's always sports on. There's also a video game system down there.
If you hadn't been admitted to Stanford, what was your second choice?
I've always been one of those guys - it's probably not healthy - this is where I wanted to go and I was fortunate enough to get admitted. I honestly couldn't tell you because I didn't think about Plan B. Once I knew I got into Stanford there was no applying any place else.
What makes Stanford special?
Honestly, I think of a quote by Michelle Wie a couple years ago. She said she loved being here because she knows she's good at what she does, but she's surrounded by people that are good at what they do. So, in some respects, she stands out a little bit, but not that much. Andrew's (Luck) experience is pretty much the same thing. Here is this All-American, big-time quarterback walking across campus and he gets recognized.
At the same time, there's so many people around campus that have already started companies, that are multi-millionaires by themselves. A couple guys I know have already started their third companies. There's almost like this umbrella, where a guy like Andrew or Michelle can kind of let their guard down and say, "I'm just a person here." It puts people at ease. It's that atmosphere of, `Hey, we all belong here. Let's work together.' The faculty is phenomenal. This being a research university, they help the students as much as they students help them. It's kind of that entrepreneurial spirit that is different here than so many other places. Everything is put toward helping you be successful.
Who is your favorite athlete?
Magic Johnson. I was in second grade and had never watched basketball. We moved from Oregon to Arizona. That year our cable channel got almost every Laker game. I watched Magic come in his rookie year and take over - he started at point guard and center in the NBA Finals and dominated with a smile on his face. I've always been one of those kids that was happy and smiled, and here's a guy who was a fierce competitor, but had some fun and enjoys it. It changed the game of basketball. It was fast, fun and energetic. And of course, it was L.A. It just drew me to him. I had this plan of being 6-foot-9. It just didn't work out for me. That really helped me start loving basketball.
Will you script offensive plays this year?
I'm a big first 15 guy. Typically, you get through about 8-to-10. Then we'll mark plays outside of that first 15 that we also like. So that whole group will be like the first half game plan.
Who are your sounding boards for football?
There are really three: Jon Gruden of ESPN; Bill Callahan, assistant head coach of the New York Jets; and Juan Castillo, defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Juan is the most dedicated person I've ever been around.
Do you have an outlet to help you decompress from coaching?
I'm too old to play recreational basketball and not good enough to play recreational golf. I just try to spend time with my kids, because they could care less about football.
Is it true you had a class with Tiger Woods?
I did. It was Portuguese Studies. It was a really small class. It was just one of those elective classes where the professor actually taught something else, but he was from Portugal, and he wanted to teach a class to a few students just so people could learn more about his country. He was a great teacher because he was passionate about the information.
Tiger was freshman and engaged in the class, but it was before he was huge. I'll never forget - because we had some athletes in there including our starting quarterback, Steve Stenstrom, and golfer Casey Martin -- we heard a camera crew was going to be in there. They didn't tell us it was going to be like an ESPN/Sports Center deal. I remember turning to one of my friends saying, "Who's that guy?" That's a typical Stanford moment. I tell the guys we recruit, you will sit down in a class room and you don't know who you are sitting next to. And some time during the next year, two years or 10 years, `Oh wait, I remember him or her.'
Mark Soltau has been writing about amateur and professional sports for 34 years. The Palo Alto native spent 16 years at the San Francisco Examiner covering Stanford Athletics, the 49ers and golf, earning many national writing awards. In 1997, Soltau became a Bay Area columnist and national golf writer for CBS Sportsline and was also named editor of Tigerwoods.com. In 2002, he joined Golf Digest as a Contributing Editor and has covered 70 major championships.