Let me be clear: I’m a David Shaw fan.
I believe in his leadership and his ability to recruit. I love his quiet confidence and cerebral approach to the game of football.
As a Stanford alum who endured years of football irrelevance, I’m ecstatic the Cardinal is now a perennial force. I’m grateful for Shaw’s contributions during Stanford’s rise to prominence and its current stability as a top-notch team.
But with national championships and conference titles on the line, the margin for error is now incredibly slim. And when a game is in crunch time, I believe Shaw needs to be a better coach.
While some fans say Shaw needs to call different plays down the stretch, I’ll be more specific: Shaw needs to call the higher percentage plays.
Twice this season, Shaw deprived the Cardinal of its best opportunity to win — by abandoning its true identity. In game-defining drives at Utah and USC, Shaw needed to run the football…and failed.
Shaw defended his calls: “Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. If you want to win games, they’ve gotta work more often than they don’t.”
But if Shaw wants to win, he has to call the plays that work most often. In short-yardage situations, power and variations of power have been Stanford’s best and most effective options.
We know it. Our opponents know it — and they’ve consistently failed to stop it. Just ask Oregon.
And yet, in Stanford’s losses, Shaw — the cerebral coach — has failed to play the percentages.
Against Utah, facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Utes 6-yard line with a timeout left, Stanford abandoned the run — the higher percentage play — passing up an easier opportunity at a first down, which would have earned four more chances at a game-winning touchdown.
Against USC, facing a 2nd-and-2 on a potential game-winning drive, Stanford abandoned the run — the higher percentage play to keep the drive alive — and instead, Kevin Hogan threw an interception.
I was relieved when Shaw finally took the blame for a play call in the redzone at USC. But I was incredulous when I heard him say this week that play calling is often left up to chance. If that were true, we’d be flipping coins before every down.
There’s obviously a reason Shaw wants to call plays when a game is on the line. But before he continues to do so, he must take a look in the mirror and improve: He must have the ability to recognize the highest percentage play, given the time and situation of a game. He must have a keener recognition of the flow of a game.
Listen, David Shaw is going to be at Stanford for a long time. I wholeheartedly support his tenure there and look forward to watching the Cardinal win future Rose Bowls and maybe even a national title.
But like his players, Shaw needs to continue to strive to be better. He cannot forget to embrace the Stanford football identity down the stretch — and be sure to call the plays with the absolute highest rate of success.
David Shaw has the power. Now he just has to run it too.
Aaron Levine ‘04 is the sports director for Q13 Fox in Seattle.