STANFORD, Calif. – New Stanford football coaches Duane Akina, Peter Hansen and Lance Taylor come from winning teams and expect that trend to continue on The Farm, where the Cardinal has appeared in four consecutive BCS games. All three boast outstanding pedigrees.
Akina spent the last 13 seasons overseeing the defensive backs at Texas, producing three Thorpe Award winners. Hansen, a Palo Alto High graduate, was a defensive assistant for head coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in 2009 and 2010, then followed him to the 49ers for three seasons. He will work with Cardinal inside linebackers. Taylor, a former walk-on wide receiver at Alabama, where he played in 38 straight games, comes to Stanford from the Carolina Panthers, and will coach running backs.
“I’m always looking for people who are good teachers,” said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “On top of that, I want to make sure that their personality fits both Stanford University and our coaching staff. We spend so much time together, we have to be able to gel and work together well in pressure situations.”
A native of Hawaii, Akina played quarterback for three years at the University of Washington. Now in his 36th year of coaching, 28 of his players have progressed to the NFL. Akina has seen it all, and his experience should be invaluable for the young Cardinal secondary.
“I was actually thinking about sitting out,” Akina said. “I’ve worked with a couple guys on the staff and it was just really interesting when I first talked to them, just philosophically, what they were talking about. This game is still about the people you’re lining up with. I’ve admired Stanford from afar over the years and have great respect for the staff and what they’ve done.”
How did Shaw change his mind?
“Like recruiting, we had to get him to visit,” he said. “Once we met him, we knew he fit us and I think very quickly he started to see that we were what he was looking for: great staff, great kids, great university and a winning environment.”
Part of the lure for Akina was closer proximity to Hawaii. He was also intrigued about working with Shaw.
“I had heard so many great things about him,” he said. “I just felt this was something that was good. It’s a great football conference that attracts great offensive personnel and coaches, which gives you a chance defensively to run a lot of NFL concepts.
“Stanford has always had such a great reputation academically. They’ve been able to take that competitive spirit from the classroom to the grass. I’ve worked with Pete Alamar (special teams coach) and Randy Hart (defensive line coach), and talked to Lance (Anderson, defensive coordinator). I could just tell over the phone there were no egos involved. We’re just in this to win some games and help these kids down the road become better fathers, better husbands and a better part of the community. Then it was confirmed when I came in.”
What is Akina’s secret for sending so many players to the NFL?
“I’m not sure what the magic is,” said Akina. “I’ve been able to find guys that are very passionate about the game and fundamentally ready. You’ve got all those guys who are glorified first-rounders, but the guys that I enjoy are the Brandon Fosters, a 5-foot-8 guy that tried out and made it for a year at Indianapolis. That just shows they understand the game. I preach to them all the time that it’s not about how high you jump or how fast you can run; to be a great football player, it takes other intangibles.”
Hansen’s father, Earl, was a celebrated football coach at Palo Alto High and retired following the 2013 season. His son starred in football and basketball at Palo Alto, then played both sports at Arizona. A walk-on on the football team, the 6-foot-8 Hansen blocked seven field goals and an extra point during his college career, and captured second-team All-Pac-10 honors for his special teams play in 2000.
“Still one of the greatest plays ever was when he blocked a field goal up at Washington,” said Akina, then an assistant coach at Arizona. “He made the travel team that Friday, then came up with the game-winning play.”
Hansen was an assistant coach for his dad for four years at Palo Alto High, working with tight ends and defensive ends. He credits his father for “jump-starting” his coaching career, but calls Vic Fangio, former defensive coordinator at Stanford and now with the 49ers, his biggest coaching influence.
“One thing he kind of helped me with – at the high school level, I was a ‘put your foot here, put your foot there, put your hands there’ type of guy,” Hansen said. “He kind of pulled me off of that and was more of a let your guys play and don’t over-coach them. That’s something I will keep from him. And obviously, all the X’s and O’s I was able to pick up.”
Why did he return to Stanford?
“Knowing the guys that were already here, coaches I had worked with before, so I could trust that I would be happy and get along with all of them,” he said. “And it was a step forward in my career. I struggled with it for a day or two. I loved where I was and who I worked with. But now, looking back, it was a no-brainer decision.”
Taylor’s father, James, played running back for legendary head coach Bear Bryant at Alabama.
“I always had the utmost respect for my dad and what he did,” said Taylor, who graduated from Alabama with a management degree. “He was probably my biggest influence growing up and molded and shaped me.”
Taylor worked as a graduate assistant for Nick Saban at Alabama in 2007-08, then coached wide receivers at Appalachian State in 2009. He joined the New York Jets as an intern the following year, was promoted to assistant tight ends coach in 2012, and was assistant wide receivers coach for Carolina in 2013.
“Mike Bloomgren (Andrew Luck Director of Offense) and I go way back,” Taylor said. “He was a graduate assistant when I played at Alabama and helped me get my first job in the NFL. He called me when this job opened up. My wife and I came out here and were just blown away by everything. It was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down.”
Each of the new Cardinal assistants wants their players to be versatile and aggressive.
“I think when they talk about you as a football player, they just want you to check all the boxes,” said Akina. “If they just call you a cover guy, that’s not what we want. Just check all the boxes, so when you leave here, you’re armed and ready. I’ve seen guys make a living doing this thing and I want them to reach their full potential.”
So does Hansen.
“Being a linebacker, you’ve got to be nasty and violent,” he said. “But play square. I want (opposing) players to watch film and see square shoulders and square numbers and violence out of my guys.”
Taylor is looking for complete running backs who can block, protect the quarterback and aren’t afraid of doing the dirty work.
“I want tough, selfless teammates that are going to lay it on the line every time you ask them,” said Taylor. “One of the things I’ve talked about with them constantly is trust; can teammates trust you when the game is on the line and we put you in?”
At Alabama, Taylor always played with a chip on his shoulder, and he expects his players to do the same.
“I had to,” he said. “I had to be not only as good as the guys who were playing, but I had to be better. And I think Coach Shaw has brought that mentality to Stanford football. Be the toughest guy on the field, keep your mouth shut, do your job, and line up and do it again.”
What have been the biggest eye-openers for the new assistants so far?
“I really like their work habits,” said Akina of his players. “I just sense that there are a lot of guys who are highly motivated. Coach Shaw was sharing a story about Andrew (Luck) – and we all have stories to share – but the common thread is always passion. They love to compete and stay an extra 20 minutes after practice to continue working at their craft. It shows it’s not just words, but actions that are speaking, and I hear them loud and clear.”
Hansen still can’t believe how nice the new football building and facilities are compared to his last coaching stint.
“I was kind of blown away,” he said. “The building is such a huge improvement. To see guys (former players) that want to come back every year and work out in the off-season is a welcome tradition.”
Taylor knew Stanford student-athletes were smart, overachievers. Now he is discovering just how demanding the academic standards are. He’s also been impressed with the mindset of his players.
“What you love about them is they’re self-driven, self-motivated, blue-collar workers and will try to do anything you ask them to do,” he said. “If you say, ‘Hey, go run through the wall,’ they’re going to try and do it.”