Condoleezza Rice, football recruiter

When courting recruits for his Rose Bowl-winning football team, Stanford head coach David Shaw ’94 can say plenty about the quality of the Cardinal football program.

Even so, in order to truly wow potential players with all that Stanford has to offer, Shaw often brings in the person he calls his “cleanup hitter”—former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

MADELINE SIDES/ The Stanford Daily

MADELINE SIDES/ The Stanford Daily

“She could live in so many places and do so many other things, but she likes to surround herself with the brightest and the best, and she found that here at Stanford,” Shaw said. “She relates that really well to recruits and their families.”

Rice currently serves as a professor in the Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, but her ties to the Farm extend far beyond her current academic positions. The Birmingham, Ala., native joined Stanford’s faculty in 1981 as a political science professor and served as University provost from 1993-99.

According to Rice, she became involved with the football program during the 1980s, when the coaches would hold faculty brunches with recruits. Since then, whenever she’s on campus, Rice finds time to meet with recruits from a variety of sports.

“I never say that Stanford is the only option, but Stanford is about excellence, and you should want to go to a place where excellence is appreciated,” Rice said. “Here, you won’t be odd or unusual for caring about both academics and athletics.”

Shaw said that, at Stanford, the divide between the academic and athletic aspects of the school is much smaller than it is at other universities, as exemplified by Rice’s direct engagement with recruits and players.

“She wants them to feel like they can talk to her, because that’s the feeling here at Stanford,” Shaw said. “Stanford professors want to know what you want to do so that they can help you accomplish your goals.”

According to Cardinal football player Ronnie Harris ’15, Rice greeted him by name in the tunnel before a game during a recruiting visit, an experience that Harris called “surreal.” Rice told Harris that Stanford’s academics were already top-notch and Stanford football was on its way to the same level.

“It influenced my recruiting to a certain extent because seeing that amount of people that have such a prestigious regard for Stanford—everybody comes here for different jobs and life perspectives, so that’s pretty cool,” Harris said.

Players also noted Rice’s ability to share her background in a relatable way. Running back Barry J. Sanders ’16 said that Rice described her childhood in Birmingham as similar to “the little girl from ‘Remember the Titans,’” a movie about football and race relations in Virginia in the 1970s.

“She’s a successful woman, but there’s probably not too many things she hasn’t been through—she’s a product of hard work,” Sanders said. “Who wouldn’t want to look up to someone who has been in the White House?”

Shaw said that Rice’s experiences across the University allow her to answer almost any question recruits may have. Her experience travelling also allows her to compare Stanford to other universities.

According to Shaw, Rice is particularly helpful in talking to recruits who are also considering Notre Dame, where Rice earned her masters degree.

Asked to comment, Rice used her well-practiced diplomatic skills.

“They’re both great institutions, and I love both of them,” Rice laughed. “There’s never just one good place.”

Rice is not just a prominent but casual football supporter, however. According to Shaw, she has the mind of a coach.

Rice’s father was a football coach, and she joked that she was “supposed to be his star middle linebacker.” Although Rice’s gender may have derailed that plan, that didn’t stop her father from talking football with his only child.

Shaw said that he and Rice have drawn up some safety plays or considered ways to exploit the mismatches that Stanford’s tight ends have created in recent years.

“She loves that dynamic that we use to make big plays and also be big targets in the Red Zone,” Shaw said. “She hates prevent defenses. She loves defenses that are aggressive at the end of the game.”

A lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, Rice claims to have watched every Super Bowl and once said her dream job would be commissioner of the National Football League. Today, that passion extends to the Cardinal.

Despite her busy travel schedule, Rice said she does her best to make all football home games as well as to attend other athletic events throughout the year. Beyond football, she is particularly involved with the women’s golf team, serving as a mentor to several golfers and hosting the team’s Stanford Invitational tournament last October.

Even when she isn’t physically present, moreover, Rice supports the Cardinal from afar. This past season, Rice happened to be in the Middle East during Stanford football’s rivalry game at the University of Oregon. That didn’t stop her from waking up early and using the Internet to watch what Rice called “one of the best wins ever.

Shaw said that, when he has shared the press box with her, Rice doesn’t merely take in the game. Instead, her anxiety, exhilaration and energy are palpable.

“All of our recruits, their families, our coaches and our players just truly appreciate the fact that she’s accessible and that she is clear in her passion,” Shaw said. “It’s something special to know that someone of her stature chose to be at Stanford football games rooting for Stanford University.”

Neel Thakkar contributed to this report.

About Jana Persky

Jana Persky is the president and editor in chief of Volume 246 of The Stanford Daily. She previously worked as a sports desk editor, news desk editor and managing editor of staff development at The Daily, and is majoring in Public Policy. Jana is a junior from New Canaan, Connecticut, who doesn't want to tell her mom and dad she likes the West Coast better. To contact her, please email eic@stanforddaily.com.
  • hjs3

    Oh Dear…

  • Alvin

    Why does she need to be diplomatic about Notre Dame? Stanford and Notre Dame are night and day when it comes to academic standards for athletes. Notre Dame will take any highly touted athlete that meets the minimum required NCAA GPA and SAT scores to play. In that sense, they are no different than your typical Big 10 or SEC school.
    If a football recruit spends any time with Stanford and Notre Dame players, I’m sure he will notice the difference right away between the two teams. On the other hand If he spends time with Alabama and Notre Dame players he may not.

  • baycommuter

    She’s a diplomat being diplomatic. She was friends with Tyrone Willingham at Stanford and rooted for Notre Dame when he was Irish coach, since they fired him I doubt the affection lasted.

  • sammy weiler

    Condi’s Top recruiting lines:

    You’ll love it here. Trust me. Have I ever been wrong before?

    You’ll be greeted on campus as a liberator.

    Sign here and we’ll celebrate with yellow cake.

    Those other teams are just crap and I know crap.

    Hey big boy, with those legs you’re the weapon of mass destruction that I’ve been looking for.

    Like trick plays? I know a good one called “Curveball.”

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • KOM

    You’re kidding right? Notre dame has a higher graduation rate and projected lifetime income for their athletes than Stanford. Stanford has dumbed down their academic standards and have taken on a spirit of classlessness.

  • red94104

    Condi Rice and the administration she served in sent young men, the same age as the athletes, into a bogus war that was justified by lies. The president she served is held, apparently, in such disdain by his own party that he wasn’t at their last two conventions and is rarely quoted anywhere. Doesn’t Stanford have better faculty role models to use in recruitment? Of course Stanford does! I believe in free speech; let Condi serve at Hoover and the biz school. But please do not put her forward as an example of anything that this university stands for. She has blood on her hands–our blood. Just wait until the classified memos and tapes come out. Stanford will be sorry that they put her front and center. A Concerned Stanford Alumna.

  • West Texas

    Speaking of dumbing down, Notre Dame took Sheldon Day, he got a 19 on his ACT. But i’m sure he’ll graduate in graphic arts or something just like Te’o will so ND fans can brag about what “class” their student athletes have for graduating.

  • West Texas
  • JulianusApostata

    Quite a disaster, the worse national adviser since at least WW2, and by far the worse secretary of state (a passive, yes-woman). Diplomacy indeed — how many allies alienated, and for what? But she made so many friends in the system (including here) with her “diplomacy” and self-serving promotion that despite her clear lack of judgement Stanford keeps giving her positions of responsibility.

  • jjjj

    Scroll down the page you linked. See the checkmark next to Stanford? That means that Stanford offered Day a scholarship as well.

    Stanford has the same academic standards as Notre Dame (for athletes).

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