Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Ted Leland helped build a truly successful athletic program at Stanford. 11 Directors' Cups in 14 years in Palo Alto. 50 National Championships and 173 conference titles, more than any school in America during his tenure.

But Ted Leland made two mistakes. Two very big mistakes.

His first, unpardonable sin was hiring his pal Buddy Teevens to be a D-1A Head Coach. This hire was elitist cronyism at its worst, and almost undid all of Leland's good works in one fell swoop. Buddy was the head man at Tulane and Dartmouth, where Leland served as AD. He also carried Steve Spurrier's clipboard for three years. He had the barest of qualifications to be a HC, yet Leland chose him over a group of finalists that included Mike Riley.

Press reports described Teevens as acting "fidgety" at his hiring press conference. He kept on acting fidgety through the next three Cardinal seasons and was canned after compiling a 10-23 record. Hired for his alleged recruiting prowess, Teevens actually lowered the talent level at Stanford. He apparently forgot to recruit offensive linemen, and in the process ruined what should have been a fine collegiate career for the perpetually-injured Trent Edwards.

So Leland had another choice to make in the fall of 2004, a chance at redemption. And he hired Walt Harris. Another crony.

The press conference was again telling. Instead of fidgeting, Harris stood solemnly, as if attending a funeral. He curtly refused to answer questions about his former employer, Pitt, who eagerly showed him the door despite a string of bowl appearances.

The warning signs were already there - Harris had an unattractive habit of calling individual Pitt players out in the press for poor performance. His play-calling was too cute by half - his stubborn insistence on the 'swinging gate' formation for PATs led to two misses in a two-point loss to Texas A&M in 2003. In 2004 he had QB Tyler Palko take a knee at the end of the first half to set up a field goal attempt in an eventual loss to Connecticut, rather than taking a shot at the end zone. He generally acted like a man whose job was a chore, and Pitt players and alumni shed few tears when he decamped for Palo Alto.

At Stanford, he has tried to weed out the deadwood by bullying his players in the press. After last year's loss to Cal, he said that his players simply didn't measure up to the Bears. He took Evan Moore and T.C. Ostrander to task for their work habits, and alleged that TE Matt Traverso was faking an injury. These tactics might be OK if they yielded improved performance, but instead Moore and Ostrander have struggled through disappointing seasons and Traverso has yet to see the field. Harris' players have also noted serious communications problems the coaching staff on issues as mundane as personal hygiene. He insists on running a 3-4 defensive scheme without proper personnel along the defensive front. And, of course, Walt treats the local media like uninvited guests at a family reunion.

The guess here is that Walt has another year of credit left with Stanford alums. And he might eventually succeed, because he's got a brilliant offensive mind hiding somewhere behind his anti-social personality. Will he get the chance? There's a new AD on the Farm, and he's got a crony of his own - recently unemployed Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney. A Big Game blowout, and we might see whether the third time's the charm for Stanford's 'friends and family' approach to big-time college football.


At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

McCarney might not be as wrong as you think.

Stanford has academic restrictions on talent. Iowa State had budgetary ones (lowest football expenditure in the Big 12, 10 years straight). Stanford's five-year losing record is short in comparison's to ISU's once-legendary, worst-in-the-nation track record. McCarney is .500 since 2000, after bringing ISU to respectability and five bowl games.

There are a TON of good vacancies out there, and a lot of bad fit coaches who would be willing to come to Stanford. McCarney might work, crony or not.

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