Jim Harbaugh has this go-to guy. You might have heard of him. He's been dead 128 years.
"Please let me quote Ralph Waldo Emerson," Stanford's coach said of the Cardinal's buzzworthy 4-0 start.
"As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success. As soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me I feel as one that lies unprotected against his enemies."
Harbaugh is even willing to translate from 19th century philosophy to 21st century locker room:
"I think right now [they're] saying way too many nice things about us."
At least they're saying something. For long stretches, Stanford football has been too irrelevant. It's hard to get angry at a school nicknamed "The Farm". Or one that has a tree as a mascot.
If not anger there is now wariness regarding Stanford in the Pac-10 at the moment. So far, the conference's coach of the year -- OK, just the first month of the season -- begins with a J, ends with an H and has carnage in the middle. Harbaugh says it's about changing the attitude. While he was at it, he changed jerseys. That's what big, bad Stanford did Sept. 18 against Wake Forest, switching to black jerseys before running up 68 points on the helpless Deacons.
Why not? Real Rhodes Scholars wear black.
No. 9 Stanford is 4-0 for the first time since 1986 heading into Saturday's game at No. 4 Oregon, and its coach doesn't care who gets in the way. Turning the Cardinal into a Pac-10 contender recently has included a two-sport star (Toby Gerhart, now in the NFL), a two-way player (linebacker/fullback Owen Marecic) and a one-way mentality. Shock and maul.
"It has no relevancy," Harbaugh said of the game that kicked off S&M.
|Jim Harbaugh and Stanford aren't afraid to rub salt in the wound of a hapless opponent. (AP)|
What's your deal? It was made into the marketing slogan for Stanford's season-ticket campaign.
The coach has never adequately explained his, um, "strategy." They say what goes around comes around, but we're not sure Harbaugh gives a crap. Kids only do what they're told and it's clear what they've been told.
"One of our mottos is, 'We're going to win with character but we're also going to win with cruelty,'" center Chase Beeler said last week.
Cruelty? Stanford? Really? The general impression about Stanford burned into most fan's minds is smarts, a few Rose Bowls, a lot of Directors Cups, a Plunkett and an Elway. The modern impression started to change when the Cardinal pulled that upset of the century at USC in 2007. It changed further when USC went down again last season, with Gerhart finishing second in the Heisman voting.
"Anytime you're rebuilding a program, everybody wants to talk about their favorite buzzword, 'changing the culture,'" Harbaugh said. "We're into changing the attitude."
There he goes again. Attitude. Harbaugh then launched into a rambling anecdote about stone cutters. One says he's just cutting stones. The other says he is part of building a great cathedral.
"That's attitude," Harbaugh said.
It is embodied by Marecic, who is close to becoming a 60-minute man. Against Notre Dame, he scored touchdowns on consecutive snaps -- on offense and defense. After a one-yard touchdown plunge as a fullback, Marecic stepped in front of a Dayne Crist pass and returned it 20 yards for another score as a linebacker. After coaches graded film, Marecic came out almost 100 percent.
"It's unchartered waters," Harbaugh said. "He plays the two toughest positions physically on the field."
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Oh, and Stanford has its quarterback too. Andrew Luck has emerged as the conference's draft darling after the decline and fall of Washington's Jake Locker. The son of a former NFL quarterback (current West Virginia AD Oliver Luck) just seems to do everything right with his arm and his feet. Only USC's Matt Barkley (with 12) has more touchdown passes than Luck, who is tied for second nationally with 11.
With those kinds of numbers, Harbaugh was chided that Luck might be playing a lot like his coach once did.
"No, gosh no," he said. "He's much better."
Did we mention that Harbaugh doesn't care what you think of him? He runs it up like Miami-vintage Jimmy Johnson and with the looks of Miami Vice-vintage Don Johnson. The son of a coach can be a son-of-a-b. This is a guy who met his current wife at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas. This is a guy who doesn't like to waste time, so Harbaugh talked the school into spending $50,000 to put a bathroom in his office. Beats walking down the hall.
Mike Leach never left the profession, his spirit inhabited Mike Ditka's former quarterback.
Payback is involved this week, which is better for everyone involved. Fresh in the minds of Ducks everywhere is the 51-42 beat down Stanford put on them last year.
"You've got the rough and tough guys from Stanford and a little bit more finesse from Oregon," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.
It is a clash of styles, but it's also the Cardinal trying to elbow its way into the Pac-10 elite. A win would make Stanford 5-0 for the first time since 1951.
How a former quarterback got this far, this way is hard to fathom. The last time Stanford was 4-0, Harbaugh was playing the position for Michigan, finishing third in the Heisman voting. A year earlier in 1985, he led the nation in pass efficiency, a record that stood for 12 years. Now the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football at Stanford -- that's how the school titles its coaches -- takes names then kicks butt. It's a vendetta against the world and the world wants to know why.
The coach's only explanation is to paraphrase his boy Ralph Waldo.
"We hate," Harbaugh said, "to be defended in the newspapers."