It won’t be easy to bring Stanford back to football glory, but if anybody can do it, new coach Jim Harbaugh is the guy.
The biggest hurdle for the Cardinal has been the admission’s standards, the nation’s highest for Division I-A schools, but Harbaugh looks at that with pride.
"College football needs Stanford," he said during an interview in his office. "We’re looking not for student athletes but scholar-athletes. No other school can carry this banner. The Ivy League schools don’t have enough weight [because of their low athletic level]. Other schools which have good academic reputations have ways to get borderline athletes in and keep them in."
Harbaugh includes his alma mater, Michigan, in that indictment.
"Michigan is a good school and I got a good education there," he said, "but the athletic department has ways to get borderlineguys in and, when they’re in, they steer them to courses in sports communications. They’re adulated when they’re playing, but when they get out, the people who adulated them won’t hire them."
Stanford’s high admission standards have always reduced the number of potential recruits. Harbaugh got a late start for the latest recruiting season because he wasn’t hired until Dec. 19. "We only had 19 guys we could target," he said, "but we got all 19. That’s a pretty good batting average."
This fall, he anticipates there will be about 60 names on his recruiting list.
"Of course, we’ll be competing against all the top schools, but if we can get one out of three on our list, we’ll be OK," he said. "The good thing is that everybody knows what Stanford has to offer, so we can get in the living room of any player we want."
The same energy that Harbaugh exhibits in conversation is also apparent on the practice field. The spring workouts, which concluded last week, were much more energetic and organized than those of the last two Cardinal coaches, Walt Harris and Buddy Teevens.
Harbaugh has made some position changes. Ben Ladner has been converted from fullback to tight end, Erik Lorig from tight end to defensive end; Harbaugh speaks highly of both.
Another player changed his own position.
"When I was meeting the players, one of them said to me, ‘I’m Chris Hobbs, wide receiver.’ I didn’t realize until later that he had been a defensive back last year!"
Defensively, Stanford will switch from a 3-4 to 4-3 this year, which probably better suits its talent, under the direction of Scott Shafer, who coached one of the nation’s top defenses at Western Michigan the last two years. The two had never met. "I didn’t need to know him," said Harbaugh. "We’ll be working long hours together. By the end of the season, we’ll be best friends."
Offensively, the Cardinalwill be running a version of the West Coast offense, because Harbaugh thinks that gives players the best chance to succeed.
T. C. Ostrander, who has started seven games and played in 22 in the last three seasons, will be the quarterback.
"He’s got a stronger arm than I thought," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh is inheriting a team that went 1-11 last season, so he will need all his energy and enthusiasm to bring the Cardinal back. But at this time, at least, he appears to be the coach who can do it.