When will an offer too good come a’calling for David Shaw?

When will an offer too good come a’calling for David Shaw?
January 2, 2013, 10:45 am
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17 of the 32 NFL teams have made coaching changes since David Shaw got the Stanford job two years ago. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

The rush to declare David Shaw college football’s latest under-the-radar coaching genius in the wake of the Rose Bowl was quickly leveled by retorts of “But he just signed an extension and Stanford is his dream job.”

To which anyone who pays attention to the sport should say, “And . . . ?”

Yes, he did extend his contract, and chose not to reveal its terms, a pretty strong indication that it is open-ended and is very Shaw-friendly in case the next dream job comes up at some point.

And yes, he does love his current job. Good players, a rolling recruiting base, a very friendly administration, minimal legal issues with fun-loving players, a conference that will survive the tempests of realignment – what’s not to love?

But you know what we know about college football? Nothing is forever. Hell, nothing is for three years from now. No conference is as it was three years ago. Shaw’s two seasons at Stanford puts him 52nd out of 124 coaches in longevity – yes, 72 coaches have been hired since him.

And while we’re at it, 17 of the 32 NFL teams have made coaching changes since Shaw got the Cardinal job.

What we’re trying to explain here is that the contract extension everyone who follows Stanford seems to be relying upon for coaching stability with Shaw is barely worth the copy/paste function.

Not because Shaw is being disingenuous, mind you. He is, as much as any football coach, Horton the Elephant – he said what he meant, and he meant what he said. When he said it.

And more practically, what he did with the contract extension is remove his name from the college football coach carousel which has essentially ended anyway, and out of the current round of NFL speculation, of which only the Chicago job seems a good one.

But forever in football is a year, and coaching is defined by two things and two things only – timing, and leverage.

[RELATED: Stanford holds off Badgers, wins first Rose Bowl since 1972]

Today, the timing for Shaw to leave doesn’t suit anyone well. Shaw has only been a head coach for two years, and he did inherit a going concern at Stanford. Indeed, when Stanford is winning and the administration is on board with the football program,  it is among the best jobs in the country.

But that changes, even within administrations. President John Hennessy was considered bearish on football until the middle of the Jim Harbaugh era, and he knew that Harbaugh was a short-timer because he carried that like a big-screen TV from the moment he got there. The admissions people have run hot and cold on football recruits throughout Stanford history. And while the alumni base is relatively stable given that it has one major donor in John Arrillaga, nothing is permanent.

And Shaw may feel different about his ceiling in a year or two. He believes Stanford has more to produce and higher levels to reach, though that is essentially SEC talk, and maybe he will feel in two years as though he has topped out.

Or maybe there is an NFL team that could scratch an itch he does not currently know he has. He did nine years in the big show as an assistant and staff member, and the lure of the money, power and the elite athletic level has been almost impossible for others to resist.

In sum, the only thing we really know about David Shaw’s long-term future is that he has one. The odds run strongly against it being at Stanford, not because he is faint of heart or ambitious or filled with wanderlust, but because the state of college coaching works against a long stay in one place. Only eight coaches have stayed in their present job for a decade, only 21 others for as much as five.

And everyone knows about David Shaw now. He isn’t a hot name today only because he doesn’t want to be, but heat blows both ways, and he has no control over others’ thermostats. One can and should admire his current eagerness to stay and build upon his 23-4 record, but one would be foolish to think that is a condition that cannot change, and sooner than anyone around the school wants to think.

Thus, take little comfort in that contract extension if you are a Stanford fan. All you know is that you have Shaw for one more year, and the more success he has, the less likely it will be that you will be able to keep him. It doesn’t make Stanford any less Stanford, or Shaw any less Shaw, but the laws of coaching physics are not just suggestions. Nothing is forever, or even two years from now. Enjoy what you all have, for there is something different around every corner, some of it will be better, and at least one will be too good to pass up.

The only question is how soon too good comes a’calling.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

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