One of the best coaches Stanford ever employed is gone. Now, the program has to decide what it wants to be in this age of the one-time transfer exemptions, the transfer portal and name, image and likeness rights for athletes.
after 12 mostly successful seasons leading the Cardinal. He picked up on the success jump started by Jim Harbaugh and was … better. The winningest coach in school history finished with the third-highest winning percentage at Stanford behind some guys named Pop Warner and Clark Shaughnessy, if those names ring a bell.
But as the game evolved, Shaw and Stanford did not. A program known for its physicality lost its mojo. The academic strictures of Stanford don't allow the program to traffic in the portal as much as its peers. That puts Stanford football behind … way behind.
The next coach must consider all that. The administration, too. Does Stanford want to just put out a football team or compete at the highest level in what will soon be a wide-open Pac-12. Maybe Stanford and what becomes of the conference can meet in the middle. The league should be somewhat for the taking given realignment and the expanded College Football Playoff.
But that is getting way ahead of things. Shaw once told me that, after high school junior prospects' grades come in each June, he could only recruit about 75 players nationally. He wasn't complaining; that's part of the reality at Stanford.
The new coach has to know that and, in some ways, embrace it.
Stanford coaching candidates
Chris Petersen, Fox analyst, former Washington coach: All indications are that Coach Pete is happy behind the analyst's desk. But if there was a West Coast job made for him, this is it. He could reimagine his OKG philosophy (Our Kind of Guys) at a place that values the collegiate model. He's already seen major success at two stops, making Boise State a national name before leading the Huskies. Petersen is the No. 1 candidate until he says he's not interested. He is a program builder who might not chafe under the restrictions at Stanford.
Bronco Mendenhall, former Virginia coach: Judging by reports, Bronco is interested in getting back into the game. He reportedly interviewed at Colorado after stepping down at Virginia last December. Mendenhall won 99 games at BYU and shepherded the program into its independence era. At Virginia, he steadied the program winning at least eight twice in six seasons. He is a culture and program builder; in other words, just about a perfect fit for Stanford.
Bill O'Brien, Alabama offensive coordinator: The industry buzz is that O'Brien will be elsewhere next year. Whether that's in the NFL or college is unknown. While the Bama fan base did make Obie a scapegoat at times this season, it's hard to discount his resume: NFL head coach and general manager, resurrected Penn State from the absolute bottom after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, coached Bryce Young to a Heisman Trophy. Why not make an O'Brien and Derek Mason (as defensive coordinator) pairing at Stanford?
Derek Mason, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator: Another possible slam dunk for Stanford. Mason made his reputation, even his career, as Shaw's defensive coordinator for three seasons (2011-13). During that time, the Cardinal went 34-7 and played in two Rose Bowls. Mason used that momentum to take the Vanderbilt job where he went 27-55 in seven seasons. Vandy is almost an impossible job. Mason returned to his roots this season as defensive boss at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys slipped from fourth to 114th in total defense, which could be a concern. But in terms of fit, Mason gets Stanford. It would make sense to bring back one of Shaw's top lieutenants.
Mike Elko, Duke coach: Elko isn't likely to leave Duke after one year, but think about it. Stanford is the West Coast version of Duke -- or vice versa. Elko is steeped in coaching experience at private institutions (Fordham, Hofstra, Wake Forest, Notre Dame). In the Year of the Turnaround, Duke made one of the biggest from 3-9 to 8-4. This is probably not the right time for Elko, but he is a name to watch as a rising star.
Mike Bloomgren, Rice coach: Another familiar face for Stanford. For five seasons under Shaw, the Stanford offensive line -- coached by Bloomgren -- became the face of the program physically intimidating opponents. The Owls have made steady improvement in Bloomgren's five seasons going from 2-11 to 5-7. More than that, Bloomgren made Rice competitive, which they hadn't been at a while. The academic strictures are similar to Stanford.
Troy Taylor, Sacramento State coach: A West Coast fixture, Taylor has made it known he is ready to make the leap to a Power Five job. His name has been attached to the Colorado search. When Bill Musgraves was fired as offensive coordinator at Cal, Taylor's name immediately popped up at his alma mater. In two seasons with Taylor as Utah offensive coordinator (2017-18), the Utes went 16-11 and advanced to the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2018. In his one year as offensive coordinator at Eastern Washington (2016), Taylor oversaw Cooper Kupp, who caught 114 passes, 19 of them for touchdowns. The Hornets are currently 11-0 and headed to the FCS playoffs. All 28 years of his high school and college career have been west of the Rockies, only four years outside the state of California.