Is David Shaw one of the top two or three coaches in the Pac-12? No.
How about top five? Nope.
Top half? Top 8? Negative.
Not if you buy the recent rankings by Athlon Sports, which has Shaw as the No. 9 rated coach in the Pac-12 conference.
Before we dive into that, let's review the list:
Chip Kelly, Oregon
Lane Kiffin, USC
Mike Leach, Washington State
Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Mike Riley, Oregon State
Jeff Tedford, Cal
David Shaw, Stanford
Todd Graham, Arizona State
Jim Mora, UCLA
Jon Embree, Colorado
No doubt, Kelly belongs at the top. If anyone wants to make an argument for anyone else -- I'd love to hear it. Kelly is clearly the top coach in the conference.
But it starts to get muddled after No. 1. When I first saw the headline, my initial thought for Shaw was in two-three-four range. But as I kept scrolling down, I was pretty surprised to see him at No. 9.
The biggest argument against Shaw is that he doesn't have a body of work yet as a head coach. It seems like the question mark from the Athlon folks is that they don't know what Shaw can do without a Harbaugh or a Luck next to his name.
There is much to like about Shaw and there is much that is still unknown. This fall will feature the first in Palo Alto without a Harbaugh or a Luck on the roster and it falls to Shaw to maintain an unprecedented level of success. Jim Harbaugh deserves all of the credit for re-establishing the Cardinal brand nationwide and developing Andrew Luck into the best player in the nation the last two years. Replacing two first-round offensive linemen will also be an issue for Stanford in 2012. Shaw is steeped in Stanford tradition as a player and son of a coach for the Cardinal, but legacy alone won’t keep Shaw in Bob Bowlsby’s good graces. This is one name that could be ranked much higher (or lower) on this list come next offseason.
I think it's a bit of a sweeping statement to say Harbaugh deserves all of the credit. Shaw, after all, played a huge role in recruiting Luck. He also recruited a large portion of Harbaugh's players and ran Harbaugh's offense for four seasons. And he's the reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Doesn't that count for anything?
As fate would have it, I was plugging away at this post yesterday afternoon when my cell rang and Shaw's picture appeared. After we got done swapping stock tips and talking about which Hunger Games characters we were going to dress as for the big premier, I figured it was worth asking his opinion on such polls and how he felt about his ninth-ranked status.
"No reaction at all," said Shaw, never one for chest-puffing. "I have no problem with that. I'm a one-year head coach and a lot of people attribute the team's success to Andrew -- justifiably so. A lot of people attribute it to Jim Harbaugh. Me, honestly, that's fine. As long as Bob Bowlsby likes the job that I'm doing and I can keep this job -- hopefully for the next 15-20 years -- I can be the last-ranked coach as long as we keep winning games and going to bowl games, I'm fine.
"Rankings don't win games."
Shaw has an NFL pedigree that few coaches on this list can match. I'm not saying he should be No. 2. You can make arguments, I think, for Shaw, Leach, Whittingham or Kiffin in the No. 2 spot. And they would all have merit. (I'm actually leaning toward Whittingham, having seen his success over the years during my time covering the Mountain West).
But when you consider the recruiting class Shaw brought in this year -- which had absolutely nothing to do with Harbaugh or Luck -- and the way he schemed the offense this season to compensate for a lack of overwhelming wide receiver talent, you have to think that warrants more than being the No. 9 guy in the conference. Think of the triple-tight formations and the plays with eight offensive linemen. Pretty innovative stuff.
Consider some of the immeasurables that Shaw was dealing with this season. He had a glaring spotlight already with the departure of Harbaugh and the return of Luck. He had to replace three offensive linemen with first-year starters, had a shaky receiving corps and had to fill both coordinator spots. The dice were equally loaded for success or failure. It's too dismissive to say he was just riding the coattails of Harbaugh and Luck because Shaw's fingerprints were all over the 2011 team. And give credit to the rest of his staff. Shaw brought in Mike Bloomgren, Jason Tarver, Ron Crook and Mike Sanford -- all of whom were major contributors to the team's success. Hiring solid coaches is an important element that often gets overlooked.
Was he perfect? Nope. Not even close. Find me a coach who is. I'll wait ... ... ... I can count on one hand the number of times I questioned a Shaw decision or play call.
I like Shaw's demeanor -- calm most of the time but fiery when he has to be. I like the pro-style, balanced approach to offense, and I like how he's a tireless advocate for his players.
All of the above don't make Shaw the No. 1 coach in the conference. But it doesn't make him No. 9, either.