Stanford University’s head football coach and consummate family man David Shaw has been highly decorated in his short four-year tenure. He earned two straight Pac-12 titles and two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards after taking over in 2011 for Jim Harbaugh, who left to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Shaw receives almost as much attention for his commitment and contributions to Stanford’s culture of academic excellence as well as his coaching strategies. Stanford’s football team consistently ranks near the top of the NCAA’s Division I in player graduation rates — sometimes as high as 90 percent – while several powerhouse football programs graduate players at rates as low as 50 percent. It takes a caring coach to foster such an exemplary environment around his football program.
City Dads Group recently chatted with Shaw about this, his life as a dad, and his involvement in Dove Men+Care’s “Care Always Wins” campaign … and even learned a little about his plans should the NFL come knocking on his door.
City Dads Group: As a Bay Area resident and father, I am a true fan of not just your innumerable successes with the Stanford football program, but of your character in general, both on and off the field. Perhaps you can start by telling me about the Dove Men+Care “Care Always Wins” initiative and why it’s important to you?
David Shaw: The “Care Always Wins” campaign has been phenomenal, especially the way they are recognizing coaches who are fostering a winning environment, so it’s not just the winning and losing but the lessons learned from the game of football. Dove Men+Care is recognizing the coach’s role in easing the frustrations that arise in sports and providing an environment for young people to grow and learn all of the great lessons that team sports teach, much like Dove Men+Care deodorant eases irritation so people can be at their best and be productive. I love the fact that they’re recognizing coaches that are in the profession for the right reasons; helping young people learn and grow.
City Dads Group: What makes a caring coach?
David Shaw: To me it’s about a coach that recognizes all of the things that lead to being successful. By that I’m not just talking about football. I’m talking about things on and off the field, so … once again I talk a lot about the environment here at Stanford. Providing an environment where young people know how hard they need to work, … have goals and aspirations, and push towards those goals and aspirations and realize that there are going to be bumps in the road and we need to handle those bumps in the road and keep our eyes fixed on what’s important and keep working on those, realizing that you’ve got people around you that are depending on you and that you can depend on so that you can accomplish great things as a team.
City Dads Group: How can the non-athlete, non-coach out there get involved in “Care Always Wins”?
David Shaw: You can visit dovemencare.com to learn about the “Caring Coach of the Year Award.” You’ll be able to see stories that people submit and be able to see the winners and hear their stories about why they were nominated and why they won. It’s a positive, uplifting thing to look at … there are a lot of people out there that are doing it the right way. I really appreciate Dove Men+Care recognizing those coaches that are doing it the right way.
City Dads Group: I’m sure you take great pride in the fact that your football team is always toward the very top in NCAA Division I player graduation rates. If colleges are supposed to be academic institutions first and foremost, how do coaches like yourself contribute to a culture of academic success?
David Shaw: I think that’s been part of the reason why we’ve gotten so much [recognition] over the last few years for being as good as we have been in football. We’re trying to knock down that stigma that you have to lower the academic requirements of your university to have a good football team. It’s been our thing all along that you don’t have to and you shouldn’t have to. You shouldn’t, period. So, not only can you push for great students coming out of high school, you can push them to be great college students while you’re pushing them to be great football players or great student athletes. Really our big thing is never having to choose between being good at one or the other.
City Dads Group: You played wide receiver at Stanford under head coach Bill Walsh, a three-time Super Bowl champion when he ran the 49ers and a veritable deity around the San Francisco Bay Area. Was he a caring coach?
David Shaw: Oh, there’s no question. … You hear the same things (from others who played for him) about how Bill was a perfectionist but how he would also go back behind and spend extra time with certain guys and make sure that their family was doing OK and see if there was something that he could do from his position to get you into a position to be successful. He was my first mentor in my profession. Here’s this Hall Of Fame football coach who’s gonna go do TV and all of these (other) things that Bill was getting his hands on and he gave me his cell phone number and said, “Hey, if you ever need anything, call me.” I would talk to him every off-season and we would spend time together. Here’s a guy that would go out of his way … and I thought it was just me but he was doing that for a lot of different coaches and players and even people in business. Here’s a guy that wanted OTHER people to be successful and I will always appreciate him for that.
City Dads Group: After your immense and immediate success as Stanford’s head coach, winning two conference titles and two Coach of the Year awards, this has obviously not been your best season. How do you handle adversity with your student athletes and coach them to persevere and overcome?
David Shaw: We talk about “natural results.” If you don’t play your best, you will lose. And when you do lose, that’s when your true character shows. How do you respond? Do you respond by sulking? Do you respond by finger-pointing? Or do you respond by saying, “Hey, ya know, I made mistakes. You made mistakes. We made mistakes. Let’s go back out there and finish this and improve on those things that we haven’t done well and still go back next game and try to give it our best.” Our practices have been great. Our meetings have been great. Guys have great attitudes about pushing forward because you cannot live life in the rearview mirror. What’s happened has happened and we’ve got games in front of us so let’s do our best in these games that we have remaining.
City Dads Group: There’s nothing cooler than being a dad unless maybe it’s being a dad whose own dad was an NFL coach. Is a lineage of coaching excellence in your family? Would you say your dad was a caring coach and did he ever coach you?
David Shaw: No, he never coached me, specifically, although he was on staff when I was at Stanford. But I know that he was (a caring coach) because I run into people all the time that he coached with or former athletes that he coached and they talk about how much better he made them as players and as people and the lessons that he taught them about how to be a professional and how to do things well and not just rely on talent but how to work hard and how to do things together. A lot of those lessons those guys learned they have taken into their business lives after they’re done playing football and they truly appreciate my dad for teaching those lessons.
City Dads Group: Not only are you a storied and decorated football coach but you get to be a life coach for your own kids. What are some of the biggest life lessons you have instilled or hope to instill in them?
David Shaw: As we all know, the big thing is that life is going to throw you curveballs and trying to get my children to understand that. You have goals, you have aspirations, you have things that you want to do, but when you get one of those curveballs and something unexpected or something negative happens to you or around you let’s respond in a positive manner. Let’s respond to negativity with positivity. Let’s keep a positive outlook. Let’s make the lives of people around us better by our attitude and by our work so a lot of it is positive affirmation but also a lot of preparation for life. There are going to be a lot of things that come up in life that are not positive but you can handle them in a positive manner.
City Dads Group: What is more challenging, being a football coach or being a dad?
David Shaw: Yes! (Laughing.) Both are connected but very different, you know, because you get so close with the student athletes and you want them to be so successful and you hurt when they hurt and you are excited when they have success but it is so similar to being a father. You want such good things for your children and you try to be a good example but at the same time you also want them to be their own people and you want to support them and love them and care for them. So, yeah, they are both very, very trying at times.
City Dads Group: If there is a head coaching vacancy on the 49ers staff in the future and they come knocking on your door, is that a knock you are prepared to answer? A job you are willing to take in the tradition of fellow greats like Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh?
David Shaw: Ha. I think I’ve been very consistent here that I plan on being at Stanford for a long time and I really enjoy my time here and my wife loves it here and I think we’re still in the process of building here at Stanford, so I’m pretty good where I am, thank you.