Over the last few seasons, the Stanford football program has experienced a meteoric rise to the top of the Pac-12, and even national, standings.
However, the Cardinal recorded a one-win season as recently as 2006, and finished only 5-7 back in 2008. There were numerous significant factors that led to such a rapid, significant improvement.
Before Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2007, Stanford’s combined record over the previous five seasons was 16-40.
Under Harbaugh, the Cardinal saw considerable improvements each year. In 2007, the squad won four games. The team improved to 5-7 the next year, then 8-5 in 2009, and eventually 12-1 in 2010.
Harbaugh’s presence marked the beginning of Stanford’s recent return to national relevance. The 2009 season also saw a big victory over Oregon, the eventual conference champion, and the Cardinal cruised to a 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in 2010.
However, it was Harbaugh’s recruiting as much as his coaching that deserves credit here. The new coach showed early on that he had an eye for talent.
In 2007, his first year at The Farm, Harbaugh received commitments from gems such as 3-star tight end Coby Fleener, an eventual NFL first-round pick, Owen Marecic, and Doug Baldwin.
After his first full season as head coach, the Cardinal were joined by a future batch of superstars and NFL studs such as Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Chase Thomas, and speedster Chris Owusu.
This group, along with other four-star studs such as Shayne Skov and Stepfan Taylor, has been a major reason for Stanford’s recent success, especially Luck, who many considered to be the best quarterback prospect in a generation.
Harbaugh’s recruiting skills were not limited to players, though. The coaches he had working under him at Stanford prove that he had a good eye for talent on the sideline as well.
Former offensive coordinator David Shaw has flourished as head coach of the Cardinal, going a combined 23-4 with a Rose Bowl win in 2012, even without Luck.
Former defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, has become the head coach at Syracuse, and former running backs coach Willie Taggart, who turned Toby Gerhart into a Heisman finalist, is now the head coach at South Florida.
Harbaugh’s contributions to the Stanford program were monumental. Though he certainly didn’t do it alone, having the help of great talent both on the field and on the sideline, the head coach did initiate the Cardinal’s return to the national scene.
Due to great coaching, recruiting, and outstanding play on the field, the Stanford Cardinal have emerged as one of the best college football teams in the country, and show no signs of slowing down.