Finding great coaches has never been a problem for Stanford. Keeping them? That’s another issue. With that in mind, Stanford and Cardinal donors stepped up to solve the problem by installing a quasi-neighborhood for coaches across the Stanford athletic department, eliminating the poison pill choice of paying Palo Alto real estate prices or wasting hours every day in traffic. Now their only choice is whether to take the bike or golf cart to work each day. It seems like a small thing, but that’s just one of the reasons the reigning Pac-12 champions are 23-4 in Shaw’s tenure and 35-5 with three BCS appearances over the past three seasons. 

We spoke with Shaw about the importance of staff continuity, and the unique step Stanford has taken to build it, what makes Stanford different, the most important thing a new head coach can do and more in today’s episode of 10 Questions With. 

To read the most recent installment of 10 Questions With, please click here.

1) At what point did you know Mike Bloomgren was ready to step in as offensive coordinator after Pep Hamilton’s departure?

I’ve known since I hired him that he’s ready to be a coordinator. He’s been a coordinator before in his past. He thinks globally as I do as far as what’s best for the team, as far as how we put things together offensively and thinking about how we attack certain fronts, attack certain coverages when we’re looking at defenses. I knew there was only a matter of time before Pep Hamilton either got a job as a coordinator in the NFL or became a college head coach, which I thought he was ready for, so I knew when I hired Mike Bloomgren I had my next man in the building.

2) How important is it to be able to keep Derek Mason on the staff?

He’s been such a big factor for putting this team together the way that it is. He learned a lot from Vic Fangio, but every year has had to tweak it and change it based on our personnel, which I really think makes Derek special as far as being able to manipulate the defense to fit our personnel. Where we are right now, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back but a lot of those guys have special skill sets that I believe, Derek believes, we can continue to utilize in different ways so that we’re not just having a cookie-cutter defense were it’s exactly like it was last year. It’s going to change and Derek’s the perfect guy to do that.

3) Stanford has created a unique situation that allows assistant coaches to live on campus. How important has that been to the program’s recent success?

One of the biggest things for having a solid football program is continuity. You can look at all the coaches who coached here for years, there’s always been really good football coaches here that have not stayed for any length of time and part of the reason why is we live in a very expensive area. It becomes hard because you either pay a lot of money in Palo Alto or you’re paying less money out and you’re commuting, dealing with all the traffic. For Stanford University and for our donors to step up and make this a better living situation – it’s always been a great working situation, it’s always been great to have these kids we work with and the environment’s phenomenal – but now to live in close proximity, to where half the coaching staff either bikes, or walks, or takes golf carts to work, that’s awesome. We have that better quality of life so that now, we as coaches work ridiculous hours, but guys can still see their kids and their wives for lunch because they’re so close. It’s been one of the biggest differences in helping turn this program around to where we’re not losing three to four coaches every year just because of cost of living.

4) We heard you speak at the AFCA Convention when you said your staff tries to set an early standard with recruits. How often does that become a challenge considering some other schools targeting your recruits may not share that philosophy?

It’s not a challenge because, to be quite honest, it’s not for everybody. That’s what we believe about Stanford University. It’s not for everybody. There are a lot of really smart people that Stanford’s not the place for them. There are some really, really good football players where the Stanford football team is not the place for them. It’s all about finding the right guys that we know when the game’s on the line that they’re part of us, they’re with us, they believe in the team aspect of things and understand what we’re trying to do here. What we’re trying to do is play great football and be great in the classroom and be great when we graduate and if we go to the NFL, great, but we’re going to do great things also. It’s finding those guys. 

We recruit as hard as anybody, we just don’t recruit the same ways that people do. I do not believe in putting young men up on pedestals. I believe in showing them this is a great place to get everything they want out of the college football experience. Great degree, great experience playing football, win a lot of games, go to bowl games and look back on your career and say, ‘Man, that was a great, great time for me.’ But also know that me as a head coach and our coaching staff are going to be mentors. We’re not going to be buddies, we’re not also going to be overly harsh. We don’t take the dictator role. We take the true mentor role, which is we’re going to take these young men, teach them how to give maximum effort, teach them how to take advantage of the situations that they find themselves in here, positive situations, winning games, how to handle that success and to do the things that lead toward more success. I think that’s just our overall mentality. If we come across a young man that is a really good football player that doesn’t fit that we say that’s fine, that’s great. It’s great for him to go some place else because he’ll be happier some place else and we’ll be happier with the guys that come here.

5) Do you plan on carving out some time to watch any other Pac-12 spring games?

That’s a definite possibility. 

6) There are a handful of private schools – Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Baylor and Duke – that are enjoying major upswings right now. To what do you attribute that success?

It’s hard for me to comment on other places and what other teams are doing as far as Stanford’s concerned because we still just look at us. We don’t look at what other places do. For us, we know that there are Stanford men out there. There are other good academic schools, we’re the only school that says the kids have to get admitted into school before we send them a Letter of Intent. Our process is different. They have to fill out the application, they have to write the essay. We’re the only school that has the standard of guys taking two AP courses. When they get into their senior year, they need to take AP courses, they need to take upper-level courses. For us, it’s about finding those guys. Typically what you find when you find a kid that’s willing to do the extra work, willing to work hard in the classroom, that same guy is willing to give extra effort on the field as well. We’ve been able to find these guys that are tough, and smart, and guys that are finishers, guys that don’t shy away from things that may be a little difficult. One of the phrases that we say all the time around here was, ‘If you want to be good at something, you better work at it.’ The guys that are not afraid of work – not afraid of work in the classroom, not afraid of work on the field – those are the guys that are going to be successful. If we find enough of those guys we know our team is going to be successful.

7) You threw the ball less than anyone in the Pac-12 on a per-game basis last season. Do you expect that to change significantly this year?

That’s a possibility. I didn’t know that, but we talk about being balanced. In a world of football, college and NFL, where there is not a lot of balance, we talk a lot about balance. I’d love to be 50-50 run-pass as long as we’re passing and running with efficiency. I believe that we had one of the better running backs in the country and we were going to feature what he could do well. I thought we had an inexperienced quarterback with a cast that was developing around him passing-wise, and we smartly did what we should have done. Hopefully we can be as balanced as we hope to be this year coming up with a young receiving corps that we think is talented, losing our top two tight ends (from) a year ago, but still being able to have a good running game with some experienced running backs.

8) As you roll into Year 3 of your tenure, how will you define success this year?

I think it’s defined daily. We as a coaching staff have talked about it, we refuse to use other people’s definitions of success, which is a certain amount of yards per game offensively or defensively, how many points you score a game, how many points you give up, aesthetically what it looks like. For us, the success is, are we playing as well as we can? That’s our job. Winning or losing is the result of how well you play and how well you play is a result of how you train. We concentrate on how we train, how we teach our guys, how hard we work, how smart we work, how we position our players to put them in a position to be successful. Those are the things to me that lead to success. I didn’t make that up at all. It’s completely stolen from Bill Walsh. Winning is the result of doing things right and doing things well. We concentrate on doing things right and doing things well.

9) What advice would you give to a coach taking his first head coaching job?

The most important thing is hiring the right staff. It’s the most important thing because as a head coach you don’t have the time to coach football as much as you did before. There are so many other things you’re responsible for that you need to have a staff that you trust, that you believe in and that believes in the same things you do so that you can delegate. No. 1 is hire a great staff so that you can do No. 2, which is delegate and trust that things are going to get done the right way. Sometimes when you’re hiring guys and you feel like there’s a rush, there’s a hurry, ‘I’ve got to get my staff filled.’ I don’t believe there is a rush. You take your time to find the right people because when you find the right people then everything else falls into place. You have great staff camaraderie and the players feel that staff camaraderie. It’s all about building that right environment so to me those are the top things. Hire a great staff, take the time to do it and then delegate because your time is going to get stretched thin.

10) What should be one of your biggest games of the season, Oregon, is on a Thursday night. How does that change things for you?

We have a Thursday schedule that we’ve done the last few years which has been pretty good as far as getting our guys ready to play. What’ll happen is it ends up being two mini-byes. You don’t get a complete bye, you get two half byes. The fact that it’s Oregon, it’s going to be packed, it’s going to be loud, it’s going to on national TV, it’s going to be exciting. But the bottom line for us is to take the emphasis off of who we play and where we play and when we play and put the emphasis on how we play. When that attitude is right, it doesn’t matter when, it doesn’t matter where and it doesn’t matter who because we’re going to show up and give our best game. That’s our plan.