Shaw succeeding in shadows

November 11, 2011, 1:06 am
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Theres been no jarring chord changes, no dissonant notes. David Shaw blends right in, like soothing background music.

Like Sade perhaps, Shaws pregame listening of choice.

As Stanford readies for its biggest game of the year on Saturday evening against Oregon, the focus is on Andrew Luck. Of course. Stanfords Heisman trophy candidate is the face and personality of the team.

And when the focus isnt on Luck, its on Shaws predecessor, Jim Harbaugh. Just down the road and performing the kind of alchemy on the 49ers that he worked at Stanford, Harbaughs presence still looms over the Cardinal program.
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Where the focus is definitely not is on Shaw, who is working in the shadows. But Shaw is making a bid to become just the third rookie head coach to win a national title, in his first year as Harbaughs successor.

Easy right? Taking over an established program and just letting it roll along on autopilot. But thats totally discounting what Shaw has done.

Hes become the George Seifert of the college game -- taking over from a superstar coach, the beneficiary of a great quarterback, but having the huge responsibility of keeping the program on track. Screw it up and youre ruined forever. Keep it going and you get no credit.

When Harbaugh left he not only took his oversized personality to the 49ers he also took Stanfords offensive and defensive coordinators. He left behind a program with high expectations, the most high profile player in the country and a culture that hasnt exactly cultivated big-time college football (and can we just say, during this week of Penn State horrors, hooray for that?).

It could have all gone very wrong in the hands of the wrong coach, say a Buddy Teevens or a Walt Harris.
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But Shaw -- to quote his favorite entertainer - is a smooth operator. Hes made the transition seamless. Hes felt no need to assert his own ego. He doesnt mind the shadows. Doesnt mind the BCS politics. Doesnt ask what anyones deal is. Doesnt appear to have an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Isnt the constant subject of speculation about what his next job will be.

He just wants to win, and thats what hes been doing. The Cardinal has won 17 straight games, the longest winning streak in the nation. The last loss was to Oregon -- in Eugene -- on Oct. 2, 2010.

Shaws approach is one of balance and perspective. So on the eve of the biggest game hes coached to date, dont expect Shaw to be any different.

I personally dont change, he said Tuesday. If something funny happens in practice, I laugh. If something happens that I dont like, I address it.

Though he seems as laid back as a mellow jazz station, Shaws players have let it be known that hes quick to get on them. And he has their back. On Tuesday he sharply defended Luck against Phil Simms contrarian blather that Luck isnt making NFL throws.

He hasnt been looking closely enough, Shaw said. To say he cant make NFL throws is comical.

Shaw doesnt feel the need to rail against the injustices of the BCS -- thats not really the Stanford way (though it would be the Stanford way if an computer engineering major could figure out how to hack the BCS computers).

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It has absolutely no bearing on what happens on Saturdays, Shaw said. The BCS matters when all the regular season and conference championship games are over. Up until then, its a TV show. An entertaining TV showThey can put us at No. 3, they can put us at 2, they can put us at 10. Weve still got to play Oregon.

The hype will be enormous Saturday. The nations football focus (different than the nations scandal focus) will be on the Stanford campus.

But Shaw will keep it in perspective. Hes got two things going for him: hes the son of a coach so game day has been a lifelong reality not just a hyped up product. And hes a Stanford product so a sense of balance is ingrained in his nature.

This campus does a great job of keeping your perspective, Shaw said. He talked of the businesses that are being created on campus. He spoke of one doctor he talked to who is working on a cure for rare disease.

Stanford-Oregon is not high on his list, Shaw said with a laugh.

The focus is on Stanford this week. But Shaw will still find a way to step out of the spotlight.

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