When the Two-Faced Denny Green left for the Minnesota Vikings in 1991, he was replaced by Bill Walsh. When Tyrone Willingham took the Notre Dame job in 2001, he was replaced by Buddy Teevens. Sometimes you get it right, others times you don't.
So in the wake of Jim Harbaugh's departure, Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby has an important decision to make, and he needs to make it quickly. If he waits too long, the impressive list of recruits committed to the Cardinal could stray; if he chooses the wrong coach, the momentum built by Harbaugh and his staff could stall and the program could sink back to the depths of the Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris eras.
Bowlsby was wise enough to hire Harbaugh in the first place, so I have faith that he's doing his due diligence right now and will come up with the right man for the job. Here's a list of the candidates he's probably looking at, starting with those outside the program and continuing with the internal candidates.
Head Coach, Boise State
This is the glamour pick, the guy with the shiniest résumé. At only 46, Petersen is relatively young as head coaches go, and he has only five years of experience as the head man at Boise State, but you can't argue with his track record. In those five years he's posted a 61-5 record, including big wins in the 2006 and 2009 Fiesta Bowls. In the past he's turned down interview requests from other programs and has talked openly about how much he loves the state of Idaho, but there are reports that he might interview for the Stanford job. While some Cardinal fans have put him at the top of their wish list, I worry about what might happen to the program in the short term. Will 2011 become a transition year as the current players adapt to a new system? If there is a slip in 2011, would a Petersen-led program be able to regain momentum going forward? Finally, I wonder if Petersen might end up like Dan Hawkins, the last hot Boise State head coach to leave the blue turf.
Belotti was the head coach at the University of Oregon from 1995 to 2008. In those fourteen years he compiled a record of 116-55 before his surprising decision to resign and take over as the university's athletic director. Recently he's expressed a desire to get back into coaching, and as he watches his former team play for the championship on Monday night, I'm sure that itch will get a bit stronger. Belotti was a great coach at Oregon, but if you're thinking you'd like someone who might lead the program into the next decade, the sixty-year-old Belotti probably isn't the candidate you'd choose.
Head Coach, San Diego State
This is probably a long shot, because his name has also been prominently mentioned in connection with the vacant University of Michigan job, but he would make sense because he has a kind of "six degrees of separation" connection to Stanford. Early in his coaching career he was the defensive line coach at Western Michigan under then-head coach Jack Harbaugh, father of Jim. He bounced around various places after that, including seven years as the defensive line coach at Michigan, before landing his first head coaching gig at Ball State in 2003. After six years there, he came out west in 2009 for his current position. His overall record as a head coach is 47-50, but that includes a successful 9-4 mark this past season with the Aztecs. I'm sure Hoke is a good coach, but of all the men on this list, this is the one hire that would disappoint me.
Offensive Coordinator, Stanford University
If you value continuity, David Shaw is your man. Shaw played wide receiver at Stanford in the early 90s, then embarked on a coaching career in 1995. He spent nine years at various assistant coach positions for three different NFL teams before joining Harbaugh in 2006 on the staff at the University of San Diego before coming along with him to Stanford to take his current position. Even though he's the youngest of these candidates, his extensive coaching experience removes that as a concern. If Bowlsby strikes out with the external candidates, Shaw might be in the lead considering he's already won over the current players. According to wide receiver Doug Baldwin, he's their choice. "All the players want David Shaw as the head coach," Baldwin told the San Jose Mercury News. "For me it is important the winning tradition continues. David would have a lasting impact on that as a head coach." Considering the fact that Andrew Luck is coming back for one more year (and a Heisman run), it might make sense to keep his offensive coordinator, even it means moving him up to head coach.
Assistant Head Coach, Offense, Stanford University
Roman has been on the Stanford staff for two years, but prior to that he spent twelve years in the NFL on the staffs of the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, and Baltimore Ravens. While working with the Cardinal, Roman was in charge of the tight ends and offensive linemen, arguably the two strongest positions on the offense. If the offensive line is to survive the loss of three starters and continue its dominance in 2011, Roman will be the key. I don't think he'll get the head job, but Bowlsby will certainly talk to him.
Defensive Coordinator, Stanford University
If you had to choose the one person most responsible for the Mighty Card's improvement from '09 to '10, Fangio would probably be the guy you'd pick. After twenty-four years coaching defense for five different NFL teams, Fangio came west to join Harbaugh's staff in 2010 and immediately remade the defense into one of the nation's best. If Bowlsby had a magic wand, I'm sure he'd keep Fangio right where he is under whomever he chooses as head coach, but there's been speculation that Harbaugh might want to take him with him to coach the 49er defense. If that's the case, Bowlsby might have to dangle the head coaching job to keep him. Of course, Fangio's been a defensive coordinator for sixteen years, so he might not have head coaching aspirations. We'll see.