Dec. 29, 2012
Randy Hart has participated in so many Rose Bowl games, he should have his own float.
On New Year's Day, the Stanford defensive line coach will celebrate his sixth decade as a player/coach in the Granddaddy of all bowl games, as the Cardinal tackles Wisconsin. It will mark his eighth appearance in the Rose Bowl, first beginning in 1969, when he helped the Buckeyes beat USC 27-16 to cap a 10-0 season and claim the national championship.
Two years later, Hart was a graduate assistant at Ohio State, when underdog Stanford stunned the Buckeyes 27-17 behind the play of quarterback Jim Plunkett.
"It means everything," Hart said of the game. "When you come over the mountain and look at that valley and see the Rose Bowl, it hits you. I've had friends that have gone to the Super Bowl and people that have played in the Rose Bowl, and every one of them says the Rose Bowl is it. You never get tired of going. I'm a lucky person to go back again."
And Stanford is fortunate to have Hart. Now in his 43rd season as a coach, the Cleveland, Ohio, native previously worked at Tampa, Iowa State, Purdue, Washington and Notre Dame. He has been a member of 25 bowl teams.
"He's a man who understands players," said Cardinal defensive coordinator Derek Mason. "There's not anything in this game he hasn't seen. If you watch him day-in and day-out, he's a tireless coach. He coaches the fundamentals, he coaches the details, he makes sure nothing is missed. When you do that with our guys, who can actually comprehend that amount of information and take it all in, you see the growth and maturity that these guys have been able to maintain over a three-year period."
In the energetic Hart's first season on the Farm, Stanford allowed a Pac-10 low 17.4 points per game and ranked 19th nationally in rushing defense. Last year, the Cardinal defense ranked first or second in the conference in six categories, finishing third nationally in rushing defense, sixth in third down conversion, and 11th in sacks.
This season, the Stanford defense was even better. It ranked first in the country in tackles for losses (120) and sacks (56), third in rushing defense (87.69), and 14th in scoring defense (17.46). Of those numbers, the line contributed 21 sacks and 39.5 tackles for losses.
"Up front, we've been as good as anybody in the country," Mason said. "It speaks to his ability to be able to tap into each individual player and mojo and find out what makes him click or work, and then being able to get the most out of it. He's one of the best I've ever been around."
"When you come over the mountain and look at that valley and see the Rose Bowl, it hits you."
Hart has helped many Cardinal linemen blossom, including current players Henry Anderson, Ben Gardner, David Parry, Terrence Stephens and Josh Mauro. Anderson and Gardner each earned second-team all-Pac-12 honors this year.
According to Mason, one of Hart's biggest strengths is his talent for explaining strategy and techniques in meetings, then getting results on the practice field.
"He takes it from the classroom to the grass," said Mason. "That's an important factor that sometimes people miss. You can be a great board coach, but if you can't get it from the class to the grass, it really doesn't matter."
Anderson has been a big beneficiary.
"When you're not playing well, it can be a little frustrating at times because he's a guy that wants you to get better, with all his heart," Anderson said. "If you're not getting your job done, he's going to be on you. He just refuses to stop coaching."
Hart takes every defensive snap personally.
"It's almost funny how obsessive he is about getting us better," said Anderson. "His meetings are so detailed and he takes so much time to break down plays. He's been awesome, because no matter how good or bad you're playing, he's always going to coach you. He's been outstanding for everyone."
Hart's success hasn't gone unnoticed. He was recently named the 2012 FootballScoop Defensive Line Coach of the Year by Presented by ProGrass.
However, the 1971 Rose Bowl loss to Stanford still stings.
"Coach John Ralston and Jim Plunkett did a wonderful job and beat us up pretty good," he said. "They had a great game plan on offense and defense. Our guys were playing run when they were throwing and when they were running the ball, we were playing pass."
Even with his wealth of Rose Bowl experience, Hart is focusing on the present not the past, with his players.
"They're in the now," said Hart, who is married and has two sons. "Let's not get too excited about what's going on. Just make sure we keep our focus, keep going in the right direction, and play as a team. We've got to play our best game of the season against a big team like Wisconsin."
As all of his players will confirm, Hart is a team-first guy.
"It's never going to be a one-person or one-position show," he said. "If you look across history in any sport, it's not how good the team is individually, it's how good they play together with chemistry and unselfishness. That's what these guys understand."
Hart is also about winning. He is proud of be a part of Stanford's Pac-12 champion team, and knows it is something the players will cherish forever.
"They will hang together at reunions for the rest of their lives," Hart said. "No one can take that away from them."
-- Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics