When Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw and the rest of the fresh-faced staff came to Stanford in 2007, they were inheriting a team that was just 1-11 the season before. The Cardinal were that team. The one where you go down the schedule in the preseason and ink in a victory.
A decade later, they have won three of the past four Pac-12 titles and are a perennial top-25 team. This, however, is a down season for Stanford. Barring a meltdown in Seattle, the Cardinal won’t repeat as conference champs and there won’t be a Rose Bowl appearance at the end. But the turnaround from a decade ago should not go unmarked.
And it’s especially relevant this week as Stanford hosts Colorado, a team that looked a lot like Stanford used to look before Mike MacIntyre arrived in Boulder for the 2013 season. The parallels are pretty clear, Shaw said.
“I think it started when Coach Mac got there,” Shaw said. “No. 1 is attitude. Believing that you are working toward winning. Even when the signs aren’t there. The Stanford turnaround is heralded and people talk about it. But that first year we won four games. It was rough. It was hard. But at the same time you’re building a mentality to where you don’t accept -- not just losing -- but the things that make you lose. It’s developing a winning attitude before you win.”
Under Harbaugh, the Cardinal went back-to-back seasons without qualifying for a bowl game before finally breaking through in 2009. Colorado is in its fourth season under MacIntyre and now, sitting on a 5-2 record, finds itself on the verge of qualifying for a bowl game for the first time since 2007 -- Shaw & Co.’s first season in Palo Alto.
That’s not to say Colorado will go on to win three of the next four Pac-12 titles and pick up multiple Rose Bowl victories. But then again, who’s to say the Buffaloes won’t?
“They don’t want to not be successful because they have had so many tough times,” MacIntyre said of his team. “Going through all of that has made them have that exceptional attitude every day. They haven’t won a lot. But they like the taste of it so they want to keep winning. That’s motivating them.”
A victory this weekend would mark another major accomplishment for the Buffs, who have already knocked off Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State. Aside from bowl eligibility, it would be the school’s first win over the Cardinal since becoming a Pac-12 member and the first since 1990.
Shaw said this has been a long time coming for the Buffs. But the signs of progress were there. Particularly when you see some of the one-possession losses over the past couple seasons.
“That’s what you started to see two years ago,” Shaw said. “A little bit more last year with a lot of close games they just couldn’t pull out. And some they played really well and just couldn’t find a way to finish. You’re seeing that change this year. You’re seeing the guys play with confidence, and they believe they are going to win, and they believe they are going to make the plays to win. The coaches have done an outstanding job. It’s been a process.”