Stanford buying what Shaw is selling

Jim Harbaugh is in Youngstown, Ohio, this week trying to get the 49ers back to form and Andrew Luck is in Indianapolis prepping for his fourth NFL game with the Colts.

Where is Stanford football?

Ranked among the AP’s Top 10 teams in the country where it presided for most of the past two seasons.

Despite the loss of Harbaugh and Luck, the Cardinal is ranked No. 8 heading into its first road game of the season at Washington tonight.

You aren’t alone if you expected Stanford football to slide back into the abyss without its fiery coach and precocious quarterback. But then again, you probably aren’t a 17-year-old super achiever, excelling on the gridiron and in the classroom, and deciding which college football coach to invest your future in.

Coach David Shaw’s players know what he’s about and that’s what matters on Saturdays. They also understand why he’s hauled in the country’s No. 21 and fifth-best recruiting classes (according to during his short time on the Farm.

“We win games because of trust,” Shaw said. “You can only do your job 100 percent if you trust that the guy next to you is going to do his job. If you don’t trust a guy — if his character is one that you don’t believe he’s going to do the right thing — you’re going to try to compensate.”

It might sound like a canned line, but Shaw’s sincere and that’s why his players and recruits buy into him.

Last year, freshman Andrus Peat was considered the nation’s top offensive line recruit by several prominent recruiting services. The who’s who of college coaches were attending his high school basketball games and many experts expected him to join his brother at Nebraska.

But Peat said he chose Stanford because he thought Shaw’s character-centric program would make him a better player and a better person.

“He’s one of the most honest men I know,” Peat said, adding that during recruiting, “you can tell who the real people are and who the fake people are.”

Stanford’s turnaround started with Harbaugh. He instilled the blue-collar identity and the team still wins by out-toughing its opponents (see USC win).

But Shaw is the bizarro Harbaugh in many ways. Like Harbaugh, he’s brutally honest with players, he keeps his criticism in house and he maintains a family atmosphere in his locker room.

His demeanor, however, is different from that of his predecessor. He’s soft-spoken, low-key and commands respect with his integrity, not his intensity.

“He’s one of the truest people I’ve ever met,” linebacker Shayne Skov said. “When you have a relationship with your coach where you full-heartedly believe that he has your best interests in mind — that he’s a genuine person — it makes it easy to work hard.”

Skov recalled one practice where he was giving less than 100 percent. Shaw simply told him that his effort didn’t meet the standard and Skov said the criticism was effective because his coach gives so much of himself to the team.

“He may speak softly, but the words are more powerful and heavier than you can imagine,” Skov said.

Of course, it’s early in the season and the Pac-12 is deep this year. Beating USC doesn’t lock anyone into a BCS bowl game.

But with Shaw steering the program, you can expect a lot of pride from Stanford football for years to come.

Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @PGackle.

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