Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Letter to Coach David Shaw from a Stanford Alum

A letter to Coach David Shaw

Dear David:

May I call you David? I hope it’s okay. We’ve never met, but I feel like we know each other. We’ve spent many, many Saturdays together over the past five years, on occasion even occupying the same stadium at the same time. You and I have both appreciated the growth, toughness, and leadership of Kevin Hogan, whose brilliance will soon be celebrated in a piece by my colleague Jill Whisnant. We are both Stanford graduates, both passionate believers in the power of the Stanford educational environment, and both hardcore, lifelong advocates of the Stanford football program. One of us has had a major affect upon the fortunes of the latter, though, and that would be you, Sir. You have taken more than your fair share of abuse from Stanford fans and foes alike, but I write you today to provide you with some ammunition to defend yourself.

Not that you need to be reminded, but you know what has been said about you:

“Coach Shaw is too conservative.”

“His gameplans lack imagination.”

“He needs to stop trying to be a head coach and call plays at the same time. That call on ___ and ___ at the ___ yard line was atrocious, and it cost us the game.”

“His players don’t develop as they should.”

“He lacks the charisma to recruit effectively.”

“He is no Jim Harbaugh, I’ll tell you that.”

I’ll not address each point one by one, but I will provide data that you can use in the future to defend your own honor. More than any other individual position within the realm of CFB, head coaches are defined by winning (or losing). At the end of the day, the old won-loss record is all that matters. We’ll break that down in detail shortly, but let’s hit a few other highlights of your stellar five year career first:

  • Three time PAC-10/12 Conference Coach of the Year (2011, 2012, 2015)
  • 2013 AFCA Regional Coach of the Year
  • 2013 Eddie Robinson Award Finalist
  • 2012 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Finalist
  • Coached a Maxwell Award winner, Outland Trophy winner, Hornung Award winner, and four Heisman runners-up
  • 2011 AFCA Regional Coach of the Year
  • Top 10 APR in FBS in each season between 2011 and 2015
  • Three time PAC-10/12 Champion (2012, 2013, 2015)
  • 18-4 record in rivalry games (.818): 5-0 vs. Cal; 6-0 vs. UCLA; 4-2 vs. USC; 3-2 vs. Notre Dame

These accolades are terrific, but as was conceded earlier, these are mostly subjective honors, awarded by small groups of individuals according to criteria that make sense to each of the voters, but not necessarily to the rest of us. What is inarguable, though, is success by won-loss record. So, let’s get into that.

Coach Shaw, in five short seasons, you already have ascended to third place on the list of the winningest coaches in Stanford football history, trailing only Glenn “Pop” Warner and John Ralston. In your rearview mirror already are legends such as Tyrone Willingham, Chuck Taylor, Bill Walsh, Jim Harbaugh, and national championship winner Clark Shaughnessy. I was absolutely blown away by this fact. It was the next fact, though, that left my mouth agape. Here is a list of Stanford football coaches who have coached more than 30 games, ordered by winning percentage:

Top 10 Stanford Football Coaches by Winning Percentage (more than 30 Games Coached):

                                          Games    Won       Lost       Tied     Win Percentage
David Shaw                           67            53              14             0                 79.1%
Glenn “Pop” Warner           96            71              17              8                 74.0%
John Ralston                        94            55              36             3                 58.5%
Bill Walsh                             59             34             24              1                 57.6%
Claude “Tiny” Thornhill    67             35             25              7                 52.2%
Jim Harbaugh                     50             29             21              0                 58.0%
Chuck Taylor                        71             40             29             2                 56.3%
Jack Christiansen               55             30             22             3                 54.5%
Tyrone Willingham            81             44             36              1                 54.3%
Marchmont Schwartz        60             28             28             4                 46.7%

Any coach on any list with names such as Warner, Taylor, and Walsh should be proud merely to be included in such esteemed company. To sit atop such a list, though, is absolutely incredible.

So, David, please ignore the haters, naysayers, and detractors. Please forgive them (okay, us) for any criticism that has been leveled at you over the past five years, reflective of our collective lack of appreciation for the unprecedented run of success that you and your staff(s) have led Stanford football to enjoy during your tenure. Instead, allow us to celebrate your strong recruiting classes, outstanding player development, high-class program, and exemplary record of academic and societal achievement that has exemplified the Stanford football program since 2011.


Let us marvel together at your ability to win three conference championships in four years (with two different offensive coordinators and with two different defensive coordinators, might I add), and at the fact that you have won 11+ games in four of your five seasons, when Stanford football has only enjoyed four 10+ win seasons in all of its history before your tenure. Finally, let’s acknowledge and toast to that legacy of success. Yes, you are conservative at times, but in a “Les Miles reverse-mirror” kind of way. Your brand of conservative coaching brings its own kind of genius, and it succeeds far more frequently than it fails. Let’s appreciate David Shaw for being David Shaw.


In conclusion, thanks, David. We are #StanfordProud to call you our coach. Here’s to us having that privilege for many, many years to come. Godspeed.



PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 01:  Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw reacts to a play against the Michigan State Spartans during the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


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