There's a phrase in American business culture, originally credited to 19th century banking titan J.P. Morgan, which has since bled into popular culture - "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." It's that same guiding principal that drive's Stanford recruiting philosophy.
With such a small pool - head coach David Shaw has been quoted before that the Cardinal recruits from a pool of 80 players nationally - there are two things every Stanford recruit absolutely must have. The first is intelligence. That's why the pool is so shallow in the first place. The second is toughness. If the Cardinal coaching staff ever so much as questions a recruit's toughness, that in and of itself is reason enough to no longer pursue his services.
"If we question his toughness, then we can't take him," Shaw told Paul Myerberg of USA Today. "I've continued that on here. The games are won by the players on the field. And they need to be mentally, physically and emotionally tough human beings in order to win a tight, close game against Oregon. To win a tight, close game against Arizona State. Those are tough, tough situations. The guys who don't fold are the guys who find a way to win."
That philosophy, Shaw says, was taught by Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders and Ozzie Newsome with the Baltimore Ravens, and reinforced by Jim Harbaugh.
"This is something I learned with the Oakland Raiders, working for Al Davis and Jon Gruden – and that combination was a whole other topic, but it's fascinating, because their ideas were, let's take the guy that fits us," Shaw said. "I don't care if a guy gets cut from someplace else as a free agent, we don't care if no one else wants to draft this guy. If he fits us, we want him. The same exact thing in Baltimore with (general manager) Ozzie Newsome. Is this guy a Raven or is he not a Raven? We don't care about anything else. And we've taken that same mentality here. Coach (Jim) Harbaugh would say, 'Hey, is he a tough son of a gun? If he's not, then let's pass on him. We don't care if he's been offered by the entire country.'"
Think about the assuredness that takes in one's coaching ability. Players win games, and if a player has been deemed offer-worthy by a who's who in college football, there's a chance that kid can probably play. When you start from a place where only 80 players are even qualified for your target list, one out of every four of those has to be a hit. That's a razor-thin margin for error.
The entire Q & A is full of good nuggets for every coach from one of the sharpest minds in the business. It's well worth your time.