Harbaugh’s gone. For those of you of a nostalgic persuasion, he’ll conveniently be just about half an hour away, coaching the San Francisco 49ers. But now Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby and the athletics department has a particularly difficult task on their hands: selecting Harbaugh’s successor. It will be difficult enough to choose a candidate that can rival Harbaugh’s 12-1 season this year; more trying will be hiring a man who can replicate the absurdly impressive recruiting classes that have played a big role in Stanford’s new success.
We offer up our suggestions for the vacant coaching position, beginning with the best man for the job and working down to other candidates. We begin with everyone’s favorite Idahoan football coach.
Ideal Candidate: Chris Petersen
Petersen has led the mid-major and largely obscure Boise State to national prominence and regular appearances in BCS bowls. Since 2006, when he took over with the Broncos, he’s won 61 of 66 games (12 wins per year!) and two Fiesta Bowls. He’s done all of that with the resources of a commuter school in Idaho that plays in a non-BCS conference. Imagine his potential on the Farm.
Petersen is only 46 years old–ten months younger than Harbaugh–which would automatically help him relate to high school recruits and would allow him to envision his time at Stanford in the long term. His relative youth for a head coach would also help maintain much of the dynamicism and enthusiasm that Stanford saw under Harbaugh’s leadership.
Petersen turned quarterback Kellen Moore into a star despite Moore’s unpopularity among schools while he was a high school player, and Petersen’s pro style offense at Boise would theoretically be easy for the current Stanford players to adapt to.
Petersen’s also the glitzy pick: he’ll at least help put people in Stanford Stadium on fall Saturdays. Although he’s been outspoken regarding his love of Idaho, Petersen is a native Californian who played quarterback at UC Davis. He would do well at Stanford, where his teams would have an opportunity to compete for BCS bowls and national championships without incurring the same kind of criticism that many BCS conference football teams live with.
Although Petersen has made a habit of turning down interview requests from schools over the past several off-seasons, current rumors indicate that he’s willing to listen to Stanford’s offers. The Card should be able to improve upon his current $1.6 million salary. Petersen is a star among college coaches, and if Stanford can land him, it would prove to recruits, players, and fans that this school is serious about football success.
Plan B: Vic Fangio
The defensive coordinator responsible for Stanford’s much improved defensive performance in 2010 is rumored to want a head coaching job, and it’s not a stretch to say that the former NFL assistant was single-handedly responsible for multiple Stanford wins this season. The biggest problem with Fangio is the possibility that Harbaugh will offer him the Niners defensive coordinator job. If so, it’s hard to imagine Fangio staying put at Stanford unless Bowlsby offers him the head coach position.
What makes Fangio particularly valuable is the rare and valuable nature of good PAC-10 defense. Stanford’s defenses had struggled for years before Fangio’s arrival, and very few teams in the conference consistently play good defense. Keeping Fangio would be the best and easiest way to maintain a high level of play when the Card don’t have the ball.
More than any other, this candidate will depend on Harbaugh and who he selects to populate his staff in San Francisco, but it’s hard to believe that Fangio would turn down the head coach job to continue serving as a subordinate.
The Players’ Choice: David Shaw
The Stanford players have announced that they endorse Shaw to assume head coaching responsibilities, but it’s unclear how much the administration values their endorsement. Shaw served as Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator throughout Harbaugh’s time on the Farm, and even worked for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. Shaw’s promotion would certainly be the best choice for keeping Andrew Luck comfortable, although Shaw’s new job would necessitate the hiring or internal promotion of a new offensive coordinator to call the plays.
Shaw’s offenses have proven that he can coach, but Stanford–should they choose him–should only select Shaw if they believe he can manage the team for the long term. Various sources have reported that Stanford would like to maximize continuity so as to make a run for the national championship with Andrew Luck returning next season. While that would be great, Andrew Luck will eventually leave, and the Card will need a head coach capable of forming his own regime.
- Mike Bellotti: former Oregon coach who has expressed interest in re-entering the coaching profession. Recently denied that he had had any contact with Stanford officials before endorsing Petersen to fill Harbaugh’s spot. Displays interest in the Stanford job.
- Greg Roman: current offensive line and tight ends coach at Stanford. NFL veteran and candidate for the Pitt head coach job.
- Someone no one saw coming: highly unlikely, given Stanford’s conservative tendencies. But who knows?