AFCA 2013 Notes: David Shaw on Chemistry, Leadership, and Hiring new Coaches

With the Rose Bowl game today, and all the rumors surrounding the coaching carousel, David Shaw’s name inevitably came up. Shaw has stated over and over again that he’s happy at Stanford, but schools would be crazy not to at least give his agent a call. Shaw has not only sustained the success started by his predecessor Jim Harbaugh, but he has elevated the program to new heights with his second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance.

If you want an idea of how he operates, take a look at my notes from last January’s AFCA Convention in Nashville. I was, quite literally, front and center for his presentation, and I came away very impressed with who he is and the way he does things at Stanford.

General Session

David Shaw – HC Stanford


– That’s what you’re in charge of, the environment, the mood,  feel, etc, as a HC.


– “Hire good people and delegate.” If you have to micromanage everything, you probably hired the wrong guy.

1. Take your time.

– Was struck by what the Colts said about Chuck Pagano when they hired him. Said if the Ravens had gone to the Super Bowl, they probably would’ve hired someone else. If that’s the right guy for your organization, you can’t wait 14 days? The difference between hiring the right guy and the wrong guy is the difference between winning and losing. Coach Shaw is willing to wait a very long time, sometimes until after spring football, until he feels like he found the right guy.

2. My dad’s quote- trust vs X’s and O’s

– “When I hire somebody, it’s gotta be somebody I trust.” Work ethic, personality, and motivation are extremely important. As long as we’re on the same page, we’ll get the right answers.

3. Value of the group interview – Chemistry

– Find out as much stuff as possible about them. Tell us what you know, tell us what you like, tell us what you don’t like. Look at the interactions. You can’t win a lot of games if your staff can’t get along. When you walk into the office in the morning, you gotta be fired up and excited about it.

David Shaw


– “Locker rooms win games.”

– It doesn’t matter what the coaches know, because on 4th and goal from the 2, coaches are still watching from the best seat in the house.

1. Recruiting- “Start as you mean to go on.”

– The internet is making superstars out of high school kids before they ever play a down. “We don’t talk to 3rd parties. If we can’t get the kid on the phone, we don’t recruit him.”

– When you let a kid know right away what your expectations are, you’ll know right away whether he’s on board.

– Don’t have the biggest pool for recruiting, which allows them to get to know the kids better. You can’t be buddy-buddy during the recruiting process and then become a coach once they get to campus. They won’t play games with a kid. “If you’re not serious about me, don’t waste my time.”

– Don’t promise them more than a college education, if you do, you’re doing them a disservice, and you’re doing college football a disservice. “I’m the adult in the relationship, and it’s my job to act like it.”

– “Nothing crawls up my spine like immaturity and wasted time.”

2. Stanford Academics – Mentally Tough Finishers

– “Our academic standards are a strength for us. We don’t take early HS graduations for the purpose of playing spring ball.” The kids who can handle the academic and admission process, the kids who play a playoff game on Friday night and take the SATs on Saturday morning, you don’t have to worry about those kids in the 4th quarter.


3. Everything is Competitive but not Combative

– We don’t need to fight in order to compete in practice. We don’t encourage the kids to hate their opponent. When you hate your opponent, that’s what leads to those bad decisions, those personal foul penalties in the 4th quarter.

4. Peer Pressure and Respect

– Peer pressure is the greatest tool we have. Every team is the seniors’ team, what will happen is what is allowed to happen. Strict ‘No-Hazing’ policy.

– Had a senior center, and told him they wanted him to take a more prominent leadership position on the team. He told them he wasn’t much of a talker, and that was OK. All they told him was, “When someone on the OL doesn’t do their job, they need to know you’re pissed about it.

– As a leader, and as a coach, you set a high standard for yourself, which in turn sets an example for others and holds them to the same standard. “It’s our job as coaches to foster that type of environment.

Stanford v UCLA


– Play as a team, look as a team (with hints of individuality). Doesn’t allow his players to get too crazy with the uniform, wear only one sleeve, etc. “You know how many bad football players look great? Wear two sleeves, there’s a reason they come in packs of two.”

– My sideline demeanor – “Players live in the moment, my job is to say, ‘what’s next?’”

– “I encourage players to live in the moment, they have to use their emotions, not let their emotions use them.” Playing in the moment allows you to forget the mistake you made on the last play, not get satisfied with what you just did.

– What your players need from you is consistency.

– 2 things that drive me crazy:

1. Players give the team and the coaches anything less than your best.

2. When they do something disrespectful to their teammates.

– Enforce it dispassionately, the player shouldn’t think you enjoy it or you’re out to get them.

– “The game is too long, too many highs and lows to get wrapped up in a single moment. When we score, I start walking the other way talking to the coaches.”

– “I spent nine years in the NFL, which is a big reason why I’m not in a hurry to go back.” “The NFL players all know that if you make a play, you’ve got 3-5 seconds of camera time.” They all discuss it amongst each other, and plan their celebrations.

– When celebrating a big play, “I hate to see guys take ten steps away from their teammates.” Stanford practices group celebrations, talk about it. “We show our unity through celebrations.” They challenge the players after a big play: “How many guys can we get in the frame after a big play?”


– Tell the players all the time that athletes are not anonymous on Facebook and Twitter.

– “Don’t try to explain things to the media.”

– “Be a college kid, not a celebrity.”

– “What you say affects team chemistry.”

– Talking about players responding to opposing fans and others on Twitter: “Why get so upset over Twitter that you give someone that power to give them your ear?”

– Tell them to “Hit pause before you hit send.” Sleep on it. It’s too easy to send something right away before you really think about it.

– “Twitter is to be used as a running commercial about how great your life is.” Don’t dump your emotions all over Twitter.

– EVERYTHING you do affects team chemistry and affects the environment.

– “Success breeds success.” If you approach different things the same way, you’ll have success.

– “We set goals, but we concentrate on today.”

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