After winning just six games in two seasons under the stoic Walt Harris, Stanford has received a Red Bull-sized jolt of energy from excitable first-year coach Jim Harbaugh.
The former NFL quarterback with just two seasons of head coaching experience at Division I-AA San Diego beat out, among others, former Giants coach Jim Fassel for the job.
Needless to say, it was his interviews not his resume that sealed the deal.
“Now I have to deliver on all the promises I made in the interview process,” Harbaugh said. “We plan on doing it with a senior group that is committed to winning football games and is tired of getting its butts kicked.”
There have been plenty of butt-kickings.
Since Tyrone Willingham left Stanford to coach Notre Dame in 2002, the Cardinal have won just 16 games. The team didn’t pick up its only win last year — a 20-3 victory over Willingham at Washington — until the 10th game of the season.
Harbaugh, who went 29-6 and won a pair of Pioneer League titles at San Diego without the benefit of athletic scholarships, has spent most of his energy thus far on instilling a spirit of elan in his players rather than on X’s and O’s.
“Ever since he got here, he’s been working to change the culture,” said quarterback T.C. Ostrander, who came off the bench last year to replace injured starter Trent Edwards. “It’s been a losing culture the last couple years. He’s got a new style.”
Both the offensive and defensive starting lineups are loaded with seniors and returning starters, but it will be up to the defense, which returns eight starters, to keep the Cardinal in games.
The unit will have to improve drastically after giving up at least 20 points in each of the team’s 11 losses last season. Such improvement will be contingent on the play of an improved defensive line featuring the Udofia brothers of Scottsdale Chaparral High School.
(The roster contains seven East Valley products, including starting left tackle Allen Smith of Tempe Corona del Sol High.)
Udeme Udofia, a senior, has moved from linebacker to rush end to join little brother Ekom, a highly recruited sophomore tackle, on the line. Ekom had offseason shoulder surgery but should be back to full speed in time for camp.
“Ekom is a premier player in this league,” Harbaugh said. “I think you’ll see a lot of improvement in our defensive line this year. Ekom will be a reason.”
Overall improvement may be hard to achieve early on as Stanford has stacked consecutively a number of lackluster recruiting classes. So Harbaugh is focusing on the intangibles.
“Play hard, play hurt and play to win,” Harbaugh said he told his players. “And then form a love of the game. I really believe the love of the game must be genuine.”
2006 record: 1-11, 1-8 in Pac-10
Head coach: Jim Harbaugh (first season)
Returning starters: 19 (nine offense, eight defense, two kickers)
Five guys to eye: WR Mark Bradford (Sr., 118 career catches for 1,789 yards), DL Ekom Udofia (Jr.), LB Clinton Snyder (Jr.), DE Udeme Udofia (So.), OL Allen Smith (Jr.)
Schedule: Sept. 1 vs. UCLA; Sept. 15 vs. San Jose State; Sept. 22 vs. Oregon; Sept. 29 vs. Arizona State; Oct. 6 at Southern California; Oct. 13 vs. Texas Christian; Oct. 20 at Arizona; Oct. 27 at Oregon State; Nov. 3 vs. Washington; Nov. 10 at Washington State; Nov. 24 vs. Notre Dame; Dec. 1 vs. California Stanford will succeed if: The defense can keep the score close long enough that the team can steal a game or two.
Stanford will fail if: It plays as expected. It’ll take several recruiting classes for first-year coach Jim Harbaugh to turn the program around.