Get Your Popcorn Ready
So much to watch for this Sunday: Patrick Peterson tussling with Andre Johnson, Rob Ryan settling a score with the Cowboys, Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio pulling double duty, a backup QB taking the reins in Green Bay ... but first we start with a man who wants no part of the NFL
If you were to draw up the perfect NFL head coaching candidate, it would be Stanford’s David Shaw.
His father, Willie, was a legendary NFL assistant and defensive coordinator for the Rams, Raiders and Vikings. David played receiver for Bill Walsh and Denny Green at Stanford, and later worked with and for some of football’s brightest minds—Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Rex Ryan and Jim Harbaugh—as an NFL assistant from 1997 to 2005.
Now in the middle of his third season as head coach of the Cardinal, Shaw has posted a 31-5 record and beaten Oregon in convincing fashion for two straight seasons, including a 26-20 victory on Nov. 7. Last season he led Stanford to its first Pac 12 conference in 13 years and to its first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years. Beyond his record, he’s a genuine person and a trusted leader who would win out in an NFL interview competition.
And yet there’s virtually no chance that Shaw, a Stanford alum who married his wife on the university’s campus, will seek any NFL offers.
“I have no desire to get back into the NFL,” Shaw told The MMQB in June. “You can’t buy it from me. It’s not money; I’m making good money. I love where I am now, the kids that we’re coaching. We’re producing some of the finest young people on the planet. Every year we’re turning those guys loose on society, and I feel really, really good about that. I think I’m a pretty smart guy, but I’m not the smartest guy in the room. That’s exciting to me. I’m around some guys who are brilliant, who will do great things in this world and I love to be surrounded by that.”
But what about an NFL itch that has lured some of college football’s best, like Nick Saban and Chip Kelly? Shaw said he’s already scratched it, first from moving so many times as a child when his father switched coaching jobs, and then later in his own career.
“I understand the desire to coach the best players in the world, and if you’ve never done it, there’s that desire to prove yourself,” Shaw said. “You say, ‘I wonder if I can coach at the highest level? I believe I can,’ but you don’t know until you do it. I completely get that. I’ve done it. I’ve worked with Hall of Fame guys, All-Pro guys, great players, a couple championship games. For me, I don’t have that ‘what if.’ I know what it feels like. And I’ve got my Jerry Rice and Tim Brown pictures; coaching Rich Gannon was one of the high points of my career. I just don’t have that ‘what if.’ Been there, enjoyed it, loved it—love where I am now.”
The truth is, there aren’t many places in all of football like Stanford.
One of the iconic structures at Stanford is the soaring Herbert Hoover Tower, named after the 31st President, who was part of Stanford’s first class in 1891. It houses part of the Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank that boasts former high-profile government officials such as Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Edwin Meese and retired Army general John Abizaid as fellows.
If Shaw has his way, the Arrillaga Family Sports Center will host the football equivalent. How many other places have 68-year-old Ron Lynn, who was a defensive coordinator for four different pro teams and an assistant for another three, providing assistance as the director of player development? Or Willie Shaw occasionally giving a chalk talk? Or former Stanford and Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham—among others—dropping by to speak to the team? How many college programs have 15 players with NFL bloodlines? That’s the ultimate stamp of approval, when former NFL players such as Barry Sanders, Tom Carter, Todd Peat, Ed Reynolds, Sam Seal, Jeff Davison and Bob Whitfield send their sons to mature into players and men under your watch.
Players are attracted to Stanford because it’s one of very few schools with both a pro-style offense (West Coast) and defense (3-4 zone blitz)—and it doesn’t skimp on the volume. Offensive coordinator and O-line coach Mike Bloomgren came to the Cardinal after four years in the NFL as a Jets assistant. He was blown away by the depth of Stanford’s playbooks and concepts.
“We thought we carried a lot of volume in New York,” Bloomgren said. “And then you come here and it’s at least as much. I didn’t know you could do this at the college level.”
The Cardinal doesn’t take a shortcut on the verbiage either. They use the same long playcalls that continue to be a staple of Walsh’s time-honored offense.
“Do we ever, holy cow,” Bloomgren said, reaching back into his cubicle. “Let me grab a game plan here … just have to look for a call that’s really small font. This one isn’t that long: zebra personnel; snug right switch shift to gun gold right 22 jet stay double knight u whip kill 33 jet alert 800 jet buzzer.
“I think it takes great teachers, which obviously the staff is full of, and it takes kids that are intelligent and can retain the information. Because you have half the meeting time you do in the NFL. It’s a big deal.”
David Shaw wants to continue to attract NFL-related people, especially coaches. He can do that despite being in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country because Stanford has built and purchased homes to house coaches in all sports, and because the football coaches are paid well and work reasonable, non-NFL hours. In the often cruel world of football, Stanford is an oasis.
“If I could freeze things exactly how they are right now, with everybody here,” said Bloomgren, “I would do it in a second. I love it here.”
That’s not likely to happen; NFL front offices know what’s going on at Stanford. While nearly all college coordinators who go on to the NFL do so as position coaches, the Cardinal’s previous two offensive coordinators, Greg Roman and Pep Hamilton, were give the same job title by the 49ers and Colts, respectively. The last two Stanford defensive coordinators, Vic Fangio and Jason Tarver, also made the same jump to the pros (to the 49ers and Raiders; Fangio had been an NFL D-coordinator three times previously).
If anyone on the Stanford staff goes to the NFL next season, it’ll probably be defensive coordinator Derek Mason. He was consulted by several pro teams this offseason about stopping the read-option, and considering how college offensive schemes are now flooding the NFL, why wouldn’t an NFL head coach consider hiring the former Vikings assistant to be his defensive coordinator?
Mason says “there’s no place I’d rather be” than Stanford, but Shaw isn’t so sure he’ll be able to keep him in the oasis. “There’s a chance somebody’s going to pluck Coach Mason to either be a college head coach or an NFL coordinator or an NFL head coach,” Shaw said. “He’s got that trajectory.”
With the Cowboys and Saints squaring off in one of Sunday’s prime-time games, it’s worth looking at the offseason move Dallas made at defensive coordinator. The Cowboys ousted Rob Ryan, who is now with the Saints, and brought in Monte Kiffin. This season, the Cowboys are giving up 74.9 more passing yards per game but already have caused five more turnovers (21) than they did all of last season. Ryan still doesn’t agree with his firing. “We were No. 3 in the league for 10 weeks of the season until every single player on the team was hurt and then I got fired,” he said this week. “I think you get humbled when you’re fired and you’re not fired with the entire staff. I think that has a way of humbling you and a way of pissing you off. And I’ve got a lot to prove.”
… AND 10
1. A lot people have wondered whether it was owner Jerry Jones or coach Jason Garrett who decided to fire Ryan and replace him with Kiffin, who had been away from the NFL for four years and inherited a secondary that didn’t seem like a great fit for his scheme. From Garrett’s comments this week, it sounds like Jones might have been driving that bus. “Probably through Week 10, we were one of the best defenses in the league,” Garrett said. “We really just got decimated by injuries, and I thought Rob did a good job of keeping everybody together and working through the different players that were in for us. I think he’s a fantastic coach. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that he’s having the success he’s having (with the Saints).” New Orleans, with a defense that ranks fifth in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed, is 6-2 and in first place in the NFC South.
2. I’m not a big fan of the Broncos naming defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio as their interim coach while John Fox recovers from heart surgery. I get why they went this way—Del Rio is defensive-minded just like Fox, so in theory it should be a smooth transition. And there’s something to be said for avoiding an awkwardness in the meeting room or on game day if, say, a positional coach was given the interim label and could overrule a coordinator like Del Rio, who has 139 games of head coaching experience. But here’s my problem: Del Rio combining the duties of head coach and defensive coordinator could lead to some things being missed as far as making in-game decisions. And with big divisional games against the Chargers and Chiefs in the next two weeks, followed by a showdown with the Patriots, the Broncos can’t afford many slip ups. A more inspired choice for interim head coach would have been running backs coach Eric Studesville, who was Denver’s interim leader in 2010 after Josh McDaniels was fired (he went 1-3 in that role). Giving Studesville the position again would allow both coordinators to be more focused.
3. Great stat from Sal Maiorana of the Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle: In the first two games of the season against New England and Carolina, Buffalo scored on four of its five trips into the red zone. In the seven games since, the Bills are 7-for-21. “We’re trying to go back and see if we can put them in better situations,” coach Doug Marrone said. “That’s the first thing you look at as a coach. We’ve gone around and looked at a bunch of things around the league … then we just have to see if that suits what we can do and if we can do that. That’s what we’re looking at right now.”
4. Speaking of putrid stats, the Ravens are averaging 2.8 yards per rush. According to ESPN, they’re on pace for the lowest average since the 1953 Giants. “We can’t run the ball right now,” coach John Harbaugh said, making the understatement of the season. As with everything in football, the reasons why the Ravens are failing are multiple: the line isn’t executing the zone blocking scheme; defenses have little fear of the Ravens’ passing offense without Dennis Pitta (injury) and Anquan Boldin (traded), so they load up against the run; and Ray Rice doesn’t have the same explosion, mostly because of injury (he’s averaging just 2.7 yards per attempt, far below his 4.4 career average). All three have to be improved or the Ravens won’t.
5. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, on what it will take to snap Houston’s six-game losing streak: “We have been very close, we just have to finish off games. It’s a simple thing, but it’s very complicated. We need to continue to get takeaways on defense and find a way to get more turnovers, and then we need to eliminate some penalties and some mistakes. We’ve been hurting ourselves a little bit, and you can’t do that in this league. Every team is so good you have to be playing your best every week.”
6. Big bye week coming up for Patriots guard Logan Mankins. “I’ll start with just trying to get the body recouped, get some treatment, a little bit of rest,” he told reporters. “Then, I have to get the house winterized, get it ready for winter. Clean up some leaves, put the patio furniture away—those kinds of things.” No official word, but a league source said that a visit to Bed, Bath & Beyond was possible, if the Mankins had the time.
7. Not to kick a team when it’s down, but it’s hard to see the Falcons moving the ball through the air against the Seahawks. Linebacker Bruce Irvin has been sensational in coverage since returning from his suspension, and Seattle also has safety Earl Thomas to help blanket tight end Tony Gonzalez. With receiver Roddy White questionable, receiver Harry Douglas will have to deal with cornerback Richard Sherman. And then you have a Seahawks pass rush that is tied for first in our Pressure Points metric, thanks to their league-leading 17 solo sacks—meaning they just beat their opponents with no help from scheme or offensive ineptitude.
8. A key matchup to watch when the Packers, without Aaron Rodgers, take on the Eagles: Green Bay right tackle Marshall Newhouse and right guard Don Barclay against Philadelphia left end Cedric Thornton. Thornton is an ascending young player, particularly against the run, and the Packers must run the ball for backup quarterback Seneca Wallace to be effective. When starting right guard T.J. Lang went out last week with a concussion, Barclay slid from tackle to guard and Newhouse was a disaster.
9. Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis leads the league with 11.5 sacks, but he’s been held without a sack in two of his past three games. Don’t be surprised if the Rams slow him down as well. Left tackle Jake Long and right tackle Roger Saffold have been playing well of late, and most of the Rams’ pressure problems have come from the interior. The Rams have extra incentive: end Robert Quinn (10 sacks) could pass Mathis this week with a big game. However, left end Chris Long has the better matchup against right tackle Gosder Cherilus (Mathis draws the decent Anthony Castonzo).
10. Get your popcorn ready for when Texans receiver Andre Johnson goes head-to-head against Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals and their fans (and even Peterson himself) love to talk about how great Peterson is, but he doesn’t look elite on film. He’s got a showcase game this week (although the real matchup is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and his awesome blitz concepts against quarterback Case Keenum).