Dickey: Enjoy Harbaugh era while it lasts

How long will Jim Harbaugh remain as Stanford’s football coach? The over-under is three years.

Harbaugh’s immediate predecessors, Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris, lasted three and two years, respectively. Both were fired for gross incompetence. The opposite is likely to happen for Harbaugh: He’ll be hired by another school that values football excellence more highly than Stanford, which is to say, virtually every other school in Division I-A.

Only five games into the 2007 season, Harbaugh has already proved he has the right stuff, and the prime example, of course, is the stunning upset over Southern Cal in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Appalachian State shocked Michigan in Week 1, but Stanford’s win may have been even more surprising. Though from a lower level, Appalachian State had been the champion on that level the previous two years and was accustomed to success. Stanford had known nothing but misery in the five years after Tyrone Willingham left. Yet, in a very short time, Harbaugh has erased the negative feelings. In a way, the most significantaspect of the win over the Trojans was not the actual victory, but that the Cardinal players believed they could accomplish that, even when they were trailing in the fourth quarter.

That will not go unnoticed by the college football world. Harbaugh had some important credentials before, especially his experience as an NFL quarterback. All he lacked was proof that he could do it as a Division I-A coach. Now, he’s showing that he can do the job on that level. Stanford is not going to win the Pac-10 Conference title or even come close, but the fact that he has raised his team to respectability will be enough. In a fairly short time, he’ll get a better offer and he’ll leave.

This is not similar to the situation in Berkeley. Ever since Jeff Tedford had his first successful season at Cal, Bears fans have worried that Tedford would leave, but instead, he’s proving what a lot of us thought: That Cal was a sleeping giant. Tedford and his staff are recruiting top-flight athletes, they’re coaching them well and the Bears have risen to No. 2 in the nation.

That kind of scenario is simply not possible at Stanford, with admission standards that have gone from high to ridiculous for athletes. Though university president John Hennessey stopped by practice Tuesday afternoon and said some nice things to the team about what their win over USC meant to the school, the fact is that Stanford’s administration does not see the need for a strong football program. It doesn’t fit in with its goal of being the Harvard, or maybe the Athens, of the West.

Harbaugh certainly knows this. He has a fondness for Stanford dating back to his high school days when his dad, Jack, was an assistant, and he worked on campus in the summer. He has been a public advocate of the fact that Stanford does not compromise its standards to get top athletes into the school.

But he’s also a realist. Coaches, like all of us, want a situation where they have a goodchance to succeed. That is no longer true at Stanford; it will take Harbaugh’s very best effort to get the Cardinal to .500.

So, Stanford fans, enjoy the Harbaugh era. It won’t be a long one.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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