I have had a very funny feeling starting to take over the last few months. It’s grown stronger and stronger, but I couldn’t quite place it.
I finally figured it out this Tuesday evening at Dan Elliott Practice Fields.
I really like David Shaw.
So often, as a columnist, we only write about coaches when they fail. The most common columns about coaches seem to be ones calling for their firing.
To be fair, it is completely in bounds for a columnist to criticize coaching. But won’t those criticisms mean more when columnists also give out praise?
That’s what I’m here for today.
Besides the occasional conservative play-calling binge — see Bowl, Rose, quarters two and three — I can’t really think of a criticism of Shaw.
He’s had his tough moments — the aftermath of September’s game at Washington probably being the toughest — but what I love about Shaw is that he gets better every week. He’s just starting his third year as a head coach and already turning into a true pro.
As much as I love accounting for my own personal beliefs and feelings, I can acknowledge that a head coach’s most important relationship is with his players. From everything I’ve ever heard on the practice field and in the dorm rooms or dining halls, Shaw gets top marks.
Well, maybe Shaw’s lucky to be able to follow Jim Harbaugh in that department.
But where Shaw sets himself apart, in my opinion, is with his relationship with the media. He delivers the perfect combination of serious updates and lighthearted quips or stories.
During the weekly luncheon heading into Stanford’s date against Oregon, when Shaw entered the room, one of the writers asked the simple and polite question, “How are you feeling?” His response:
“After the last 48 hours of watching Oregon film,” Shaw said, “how would you feel?”
I love it.
And then there are the great stories he told, unprompted, during Big Game Week and the week of the Colorado Game.
Shaw told the story of the Big Game in 1990, one of the craziest episodes of the always-crazy Stanford-Cal rivalry, from his point of view as a redshirt. After the two-point conversion failed and Cal rushed the field prematurely — classic Cal move — the security staff took away the practice net for Stanford kicker John Hopkins ‘90.
So what did Hopkins do? He looked at Shaw, shrugged, put a ball on the tee and booted it into the bleachers. A few minutes later, Hopkins kicked the game-winning field goal to give Stanford an improbable 27-25 victory.
Then there was the Colorado story. It was Shaw’s first game traveling with Stanford, yet he ended up in the front of the tunnel to lead the Cardinal onto the field. But right before they headed out, Colorado performed its Run Ralphie Run ritual, right at Shaw and the Stanford team.
Shaw described himself as pushing backwards trying to get back in the locker room, but unable to move because of his teammates behind him. You have to love the self-deprecating humor. Oh, and he made sure to talk about the questionable calls that gave Colorado a 21-17 win.
You’d be amazed how monotonous and repetitive the cycle of covering a team can feel. But Shaw gives those weekly luncheons a very different feel.
He’s not guarded like Bill Belichick, he’s not constantly adversarial like Lane Kiffin and he’s not fake like Andy Reid. Honestly, fake might be the worst of the three.
And Shaw is certainly not fake. Rightly or wrongly, Shaw is not the best at hiding his opinions, whether he’s in a good mood or bad.
You could feel Shaw’s disappointment after that Washington loss. At times, his emotions made it uncomfortable. But what else could we ask for?
I think the biggest sign of Shaw’s maturation as a coach came out of that awkwardness of the press conference right after the Washington loss.
In that press conference, Shaw snapped at a Stanford beat reporter for one of his questions; the tension between the two had reached a boiling point.
The next week, that reporter wasn’t at the Tuesday press conference. I sat in the room and wondered if we were headed toward a Steve Spurrier vs. Ron Morris moment.
But unlike The Head Ball Coach, Shaw took the high road and did so in a funny way.
At a later press luncheon, Shaw called upon the beat writer to help him demonstrate the current fifth-year senior Chase Thomas’s signature “ice-pick spin move.” Shaw spun around in his chair, swung his arm around — a lot slower than game speed — and showed us all how Thomas works his magic.
Now that’s how you eliminate unnecessary conflict.
Sam Fisher looked forward to hearing David Shaw speak almost as much as he looked forward to devouring all the food at the weekly luncheons this past season. Let him know what you think of Shaw or Jimmy V’s cookies at safisher “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter at @SamFisher908.