The struggles that Black coaches have endured at Power 5 Conference schools are well publicized, whether it be Kevin Sumlin’s current troubles at Texas A&M, Charlie Strong’s issues at Texas, or the problems Tyrone Willingham encountered first at Notre Dame, then later at the University of Washington. But not every African-American who gets promoted to the head spot at a high profile school finds the going rough. Indeed David Shaw at Stanford has compiled one of the most glittering records of any coach over the past seven years, though you wouldn’t know it unless you took the time to research it.
For one thing, Stanford plays in the Pac-12 conference. Their games are historically on late night, and frequently get overlooked or missed by the rest of the nation. Shaw has yet to get Stanford into the College Playoffs, but he has led them to multiple prestige bowls in what was once the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Shaw’s background is also representative of what can happen when someone gets both the opportunity to excel and the necessary prior experience to take advantage of it.
Shaw didn’t just ascend to the head coaching job at Stanford because of luck, or because someone wanted to take a chance. He served as offensive coordinator for the Cardinal under Jim Harbaugh for three years. Before that the former college and pro wide receiver had been an assistant NFL coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. Since taking over as head coach when Harbaugh left for the head spot with the San Francisco 49ers, Shaw’s coaching record is 82-23. This season, with Saturday night’s 38-20 nationally televised victory over the ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Cardinal completed a 9-3 campaign. It might be the most impressive season for Shaw yet, because the Cardinal dropped two of their first three games. There were skeptics who claimed perhaps this would be the year that the Shaw magic faded.
Instead, the Cardinal rallied to win eight of their final nine regular season games, and make it into the Pac-12 championship game once again. Shaw has already won three Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards, and is certainly again in the running. His mark against traditional rival Notre Dame improved to 5-2 overall, and 4-0 in games facing them at home.
Unlike some of his comrades, Shaw keeps a low profile, which is probably why so few are aware of exactly how good he is as a head coach. His teams are always very sound offensively and defensively. They don’t beat themselves, and they don’t panic if they fall behind early. After the Notre Dame victory Saturday night Shaw acknowledged that there was some early season doubt regarding his team. “When we sat at 1-2, there was a lot of doubt,” Shaw told USA Today. “Some of it was internal. We had to ask ourselves a lot of questions. We talked about going back to our style of football. We had to change some things.”
The ironic thing is in a season where colleges are dumping coaches left and right, Shaw has made no noises about wanting a new contract or moving to a more high profile job. His name hasn’t been mentioned for any of the vacancies in the SEC. Chip Kelly was recruited from the ESPN broadcast booth to make his return to college coaching at UCLA. Big money jobs remain available at Nebraska, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and other places.
None of that matters to David Shaw. He continues to quietly excel at Stanford, and perhaps eventually it will be noticed outside the state of California.