When people gather around to talk about football recruiting in the PAC-12, the conversation usually stalls when somebody says “…and what’s the deal with Stanford?”
Admittedly, when it comes to recruiting athletes, Stanford is an odd bird. It was about ten years ago that former NFL and Stanford coach Bill Walsh told people that he was afraid that Stanford would never be able to compete in football again. Of course, Coach Walsh was referring to the athleticism that was starting to proliferate the PAC-10 conference.
Indeed, in the mid-2000’s, Stanford assistant football coaches were trolling track meets and spring football practices looking for any “skill player with good grades”. Any skill player.
It seems that Stanford’s desperation for talent is now a thing of the past, as the Cardinal have been competing at a national level for five straight years.
It all began with Jim Harbaugh. After the coach left the University of San Diego, he apparently realized that instead of doing what everybody else was doing, he would flip the paradigm and go in the other direction.
Coach Harbaugh defied the trend of speed, speed, and more speed by going big. He instituted a pro-style offense that employed two big tight ends, a bruising fullback and a smash-mouth running game. Instead of chasing dual threat quarterbacks like everyone else, he recruited prototype drop-back passers.
The new formula was successful pretty much from the start. PAC-10 defensive schemes and personnel were built around speed in order to contend with spread offenses. They were not readily equipped to handle an offense that basically uses nine offensive lineman.
Of course, when Jim Harbaugh jumped to the NFL, new coach David Shaw wisely kept the formula. Now, Stanford is attracting recruits that want to play in this NFL system. High school offensive linemen and pro-style quarterbacks are looking at Stanford as a means of getting them ready for the next level. Stanford’s style of play, their success on the field and their recent trend of sending graduates to the NFL has enabled them to recruit quality talent at all positions now. They’ve even opened up their playbook a little bit, adding some big-play capability.
And of course, selling Mom and Dad on the idea of their son getting a Stanford education has helped matters. All of these factors have enabled Stanford to “steal” recruits from across the country, including Arizona. Until the rest of the PAC-12 figures out an answer, Stanford will probably keep being the successful anomaly that they are.