Hey, height of the offseason, thought I'd take a look back at a few things.
Alright, so last season was largely painful to watch, and the offense was a far cry from what we expected when we landed Harbaugh. This was nothing like the awesome Stanford juggernaut that mashed the PAC-12 to bits in 2009 and 2010.
But what if I told you that this season basically did happen at Stanford? Harbaugh was in his third year there, coming off of an 8-5 season (a miracle to most of the world but a disappointment to him) in which he had fielded a top ten unit (the #3 S&P+ offense), but paired it with a downright awful unit (the #83 defense). Sound familiar?
I think it's fair to say that a lot of frustration earlier in the offseason was largely due to Harbaugh’s own lack of characteristic intensity and anger in response to the obvious coaching ineptitude on his staff. Especially when you read articles like this, discussing his response to that 8-5 Stanford season:
“He fired several coaches and stripped another coach of offensive responsibility after Stanford's first winning season in eight years. One of the fired staff members was a friend and former player who had attended Harbaugh's wedding.”
Harbaugh acted with SWIFT VENGANCE AND FURIOUS ANGER! As was appropriate.
Except if Harbaugh was pissed, he never made it public. The article linked above was written several years after the fact. I haven’t found a single gossipy or negative article about the coaching turnover during this time (and yes - this is Stanford football - but still).
The only coverage I could find is from a Stanford Daily article in the spring of 2010. Now the language in these articles is always meant to soften the blow of a firing or demotion. But in following what happened to each of the coaches that left, it’s clear that Harbaugh went out of his way to find impactful landing spots for all of them. The list:
Andy Buh – essentially fired as co-DC, but ends up getting an equivalent role at his alma matter
Ron Lynn – also essentially fired as co-DC, but Harbaugh retained him in a player development role
Taggert – Harbaugh probably didn’t want him to leave, but supported him getting a head coaching gig
Clayton White – also essentially fired as DB coach, but found a job with Taggert
DJ Durkin –probably considered moving to Florida (a team coming off two national championships in three years) as an upgrade. (He was wrong, Urban went 8-5 in 2010 and quit on his team for the second time in as many years).
So what happened in 2010? Harbaugh brought in longtime NFL DC Vic Fangio and current Vanderbilt HC (but then only an obscure NFL position coach) Derek Mason. His new hires upgraded the defense to very solid (#23 S&P+) while the offensive staff maintained an elite unit (#3). Although recruitniks didn’t identify it in 2007-2009, Harbaugh’s foundational classes produced what some consider to be the most talented college team not to play in a BCS title game, and the Cardinal went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.
Looking forward to 2018.