Lemming: David Shaw has kept the recruiting ball rolling at Stanford

Tom Lemming
Tribune Correspondent

Third-year Stanford coach David Shaw adheres to the exact formula in recruiting that his predecessor, Jim Harbaugh, established at the school.

It’s a completely different strategy than what the program used to follow. In the past, Stanford did not offer kids until after the season, because of the school’s strict academic standards, and it cost the Cardinal a lot of players.

When Harbaugh came along they started offering everybody, and there are always some casualties, usually from five to 10 a year. It’s in the form of guys they have committed to them that don’t quite cut it academically that they have to drop. But they were always covered because they offered a lot of players early and it kept them in the same ballgame as everyone else.

Harbaugh just came in and got things changed. I think the school bent to Harbaugh, and they had never bent before to former coaches such as Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris.

It’s helped the school. Stanford football has taken a direct turn north. I think the money that the program is bringing in will help the administration tolerate offering kids early. Now they’re offering kids 12 to 18 months before signing day, something that never happened before Harbaugh arrived.

Shaw has maintained that approach, and that’s why Stanford is continuing to do well in recruiting. The staff is bringing in blue-chip players. They always brought in a couple before Harbaugh got there; now almost everyone they bring in is a four-star-or-better prospect.

One thing about Stanford is that its classes are almost always the smallest in the country, so they have to be terrific at evaluating. There is no room for misses. The reason they’re so small is because once a kid gets to school and starts getting that education, they don’t want to leave. So if you’re a bad player, the school has a hard time running him off like a lot of other schools do.

Small classes hurt recruiting rankings. If you’ve got 15 great players, I’m still going to rank a class high. Most people use a points system, and the more players you have, the more points you have.

Shaw’s staff is tremendous at evaluating talent, and it’s why they’ve been able to remain an elite team. If they miss even on five, six or seven of those 15 guys, they’re in big trouble with depth. Mistakes have to be kept to a minimum. They’re very good at evaluating and, starting with Harbaugh, excellent at developing.

Stanford always had a reputation as smart, cerebral players who had no toughness. That changed with Harbaugh. Stanford may be considered the toughest team in the country. It’s a complete turnaround and directly attributable to Harbaugh — and his former pupil, Shaw.

There are times when you see an assistant take over for his boss, and recruiting — and eventually wins — tails off. I think Shaw is past the point where we have to worry, and he was an excellent recruiter when he worked under Harbaugh. Right now, Shaw has learned that he’s right up there, continuing what Harbaugh started. I don’t see much of a significant drop-off at all. Stanford is still one of the toughest teams out there, and a very athletic team.

Stanford holds its own against Notre Dame because it gets in on guys so early. It’s really even, but if you had to give an edge, it might be 51-49 Stanford. An example is Stanford starting cornerback Alex Carter, the son of former Notre Dame corner Tom Carter. They both went after him, but Stanford got him.

Stanford goes after a lot fewer guys than Notre Dame, so they’re able to zoom in on guys more. Let’s say Notre Dame goes after 100 guys, Stanford might be going after 40. And Stanford’s whole staff, including Shaw, gets in on the act. They show a lot of personal interest, and Shaw works all his top guys. Notre Dame has a bigger group to work with, but when they go head to head, it’s pretty even, with a slight edge to the Cardinal.

Notre Dame concentrated more on the Midwest, Texas and Florida, while Stanford is more national. Every year there are probably about 10 guys that they’re both going after.

Not to knock Notre Dame — it is in the upper 10 percent – but Stanford is the No. 1 team in the country when it comes to academic excellence.

Stanford's David Shaw and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly occasionally go head-to-head in recruiting. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)