Quiz time. What’s the best way to remove all questions about the future stability of your program when you’ve got a first-year head coach and your three best players headed to the NFL? Answer: sign the best recruiting class in school history.
By signing the nation’s fifth-best class (and the country’s best class of offensive linemen) on National Signing Day, the Stanford Cardinal announced to the college football world that its recent success will not be short-lived.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Wednesday, other than the Cardinal’s massively successful day, was the Cal Bears’ rapid fall from the top of the nation’s recruiting rankings. Together, the rise of the Cardinal and the fall of the Bears revealed something interesting about the Cardinal’s recruiting—and how much more stable the Cardinal’s future is when compared to every other program in the country.
Less than a month ago, Cal was expected to bring in the best recruiting class in the Pac-12 and one of the top 10 classes in the country. After securing commitments from safety Shaq Thompson, defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy and receiver Jordan Payton, head coach Jeff Tedford and the Bears were the talk of the Pac-12.
Then it all came crashing down.
When Cal head recruiting coordinator Tosh Lupoi left to take a job on Steve Sarkisian’s staff at Washington, the Bears started losing top recruits faster than a snake sheds its skin. On Wednesday, Thompson followed Lupoi to Washington and McCarthy and Payton both went south to UCLA. High school athletes are fickle, and they didn’t want to be a part of a program that didn’t have the guy that recruited them still on staff.
Meanwhile, across the Bay, the Cardinal also saw its recruiting coordinator head off for greener pastures this January. Brian Polian, the Stanford special teams coach and chief recruiting coordinator, joined the Texas A&M staff in January, but, unlike Cal’s recruits, the Cardinal’s prospects didn’t stay away. Instead, they flocked to the Farm. At the same time that the Bears’ recruiting class fell apart, the Cardinal crystallized the best class in school history.
When asked if the Cardinal coaches had to change their approach to recruiting when Polian departed, head coach David Shaw’s answer contained some interesting revelations.
“No offense to Brian, who did an outstanding job here, but there was absolutely no change to our recruiting,” Shaw said. “That’s because these kids are attracted to this place, to Stanford University, to our style of football, and that’s not going to change. A lot of things happen like that at other places, but for here, what we’ve got going here, if one or two guys left, they’re not going to deter what we’ve got going and the style that we play.”
All year long, Shaw said that Stanford was the only place that had a top-five BCS team and a top-five education, and that’s what set the school apart from anywhere else. And if Wednesday’s recruiting results are any indication, that top-five education coupled with a top-five football team was such a big advantage that losing a critical coach didn’t make any difference to the Cardinal’s recruiting class. In essence, Stanford can now claim something that no other school can claim: it is impervious to losing recruits strictly because of coaches.
Every year, coaches like Lupoi switch schools and recruits follow them. But as Shaw said, that same kind of exodus from the Farm isn’t likely to occur just because one guy moves along. While it might not be smart to draw grandiose conclusions from just one recruiting class, instead of no longer being a school where you can get a great education and, oh yeah, there’s a football team too, Stanford is now a truly great football school where you can get a great education—and no one guy can make or break a recruiting class. That makes it different from any other place in the country.
Make no mistake, college football world—as weird as it might seem, Stanford is a football school now. And it’s going to stay that way for a long time.
Brian Polian may have left, but Jack Blanchat’s columns are staying on the Farm. Ask Jack how he singlehandedly convinced so many top recruits to attend Stanford at blanchat “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter at @jmblanchat.