Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw’s resignation ends an unforgettable era for the football program and launches a coaching search at a critical time. As the search for the next head coach gets underway, let’s examine potential Stanford coaching candidates who could fill the void.
The past few seasons under Shaw have been a disappointment for the entire program and supporters. After replacing Jim Harbaugh, Stanford went 82-26 (.759) from 2011-’18 with eight consecutive bowl game appearances.
Unfortunately, Stanford football has fallen on hard times recently. After a 4-8 season in 2019, the program went 4-2 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. The Cardinal never rebounded, combining for a 6-18 record in Shaw’s final two seasons.
- David Shaw record: 96-54, 5-3 in bowl games
“After many prayers and multiple discussions with my wife, one phrase keeps coming to me – it’s time. There are not sufficient words to describe the love and gratitude I feel for my family, all of my former and current players, my staff, this administration and the entire Stanford family. Thank you all.”David Shaw’s announcement of resignation (H/T Stanford Cardinals’ website)
The 50-year-old was one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, but it seemed apparent he meant far too much to Stanford to be fired. While it’s the end of a storied chapter for both, a fresh start could be beneficial for both sides.
Let’s examine five Stanford Cardinal coaching candidates who should be targeted.
Troy Taylor, Sacramento State head coach
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Stanford Cardinals coaching searches focuses on candidates with ties to California. Shaw was a Stanford alum and offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach. Meanwhile, Harbaugh spent three seasons coaching at the University of San Diego before he landed the gig in 2007.
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Sacramento State head coach Troy Taylor might not be a huge name right now, but that’s going to change. He took over the Hornets’ football program in 2019 after serving as offensive coordinator at Utah (2017-’18). At the time, Sac State was coming off a 2-8 season including a 0-7 record in the conference.
Taylor won nine games in his first year, boasting a 7-1 record in conference play. He followed that up with a 9-3 record in 2021, paired with a perfect conference record. In 2022, the Hornets are 11-0 with an opportunity to win the FCS championship.
It’s difficult to find a head coach with more roots in California than Taylor. The 54-year-old was raised in California, graduated from Cal-Berkleley then spent time as an assistant at Case Roble High School, Colorado, Cal and Eastern Washington. He also served as head coach at Folsom High School. Those roots in the region and the impressive turnaround at Sac State make Taylor a compelling candidate to become the next Stanford head coach.
Bill O’Brien, Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator
There are factors that make coaching at Stanford more difficult than other jobs. Because of the university’s high academic standards, narrows the field of recruits and transfers Stanford can take in. It’s a challenge that Bill O’Brien is looking for.
With Wisconsin and Nebraska filling their coaching vacancies, Stanford has one of the best jobs available right now. O’Brien received some NFL interest this past offseason, targeted by the New England Patriots as a potential offensive coordinator. Instead, he remains the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
O’Brien received praise from players for his work ethic and develops strong relationships with his quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young credits O’Brien for a lot of his success. While Alabama had a disappointing season by its standards, O’Brien’s offense still averaged 40.8 points and 475.5 total yards per game.
- Bill O’Brien college record: 15-9
While he doesn’t have experience coaching in California, he won at Penn State amid daunting circumstances. An opportunity to coach a storied program like the Stanford Cardinal could be the best opportunity O’Brien might receive.
Ryan Walters, Illinois Fighting Illini defensive coordinator
Landing one of the top names in college football might be a lot to ask for Stanford, but that doesn’t mean it can’t find quality candidates. Returning the focus on experienced coaches with ties to California and the Pac-12 Conference, Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters is a name to keep an eye on.
Born in Los Angeles, the 36-year-old coordinator later played safety at Colorado. Immediately after his playing career ended, he joined the Buffaloes’ coaching staff as a student assistant. He bounced around the county, serving as a graduate assistant then defensive backs coach at Arizona (2010-’11), later working under Bob Stoops (2012) before stints at North Texas, Memphis and Missouri.
The Athletic already reported in August that Walters was generating interest from athletic directors across the country. Labaled as a rising coaching candidate, he coordinated one of the best defenses in college football.
Illinois finished the regular season allowing the third-fewest total yards (277.4 per game), the seventh-lowest conversion rate on third down (29.5%) and it ranked as the fourth-best scoring defense (13.4 PPG allowed) in the FBS. Considering Walters’ alma mater is looking for a head coach, he might be a candidate Stanford wants to prioritize for an interview.
Pep Hamilton, Houston Texans offensive coordinator
There is always a possibility that Stanford dives into its history for a potential head coach. Hiring one of Harbaugh’s top assistants worked well the last time there was a coaching search. Fast forward to 2022 and it might be worth revisiting Pep Hamilton.
Hamilton, age 48, is currently trying to make the best out of a difficult situation in the NFL. The Houston Texans have one of the worst offenses in the NFL, but a lot of it is because of Davis Mills and the overall lack of talent on a rebuilding team. However, Hamilton’s work with quarterbacks is part of the reason why he is appealing.
After coaching the Cardinals’ wide receivers in 2010, Hamilton took over as the offensive coordinator. Stanford posted a 23-4 record during that stretch, with its offense among the best in the nation averaging 489.3 total yards and 43.2 points per game in 2011.
Hamilton has an excellent track record with quarterbacks, including Andrew Luck, Justin Herbert, Alex Smith and Chad Pennington. He also fared well as the DC Defenders head coach in the XFL in 2020.
Considering his ties to the program along with his NFL pedigree and overall resume, Hamilton could become an intriguing name to watch if Stanford misses out on his top options.
Dave Aranda, Baylor Bears head coach
Dave Aranda is certainly the best of our early Stanford coaching candidates. Hired to replace Matt Rhule at Baylor, the 46-year-old has done an outstanding job building a rising football program in Texas.
While he signed a contract extension in February, it’s fair to wonder if Aranda might like the opportunity to return to California. Raised near Bakersfield and later graduating from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Stanford could be an appealing destination.
Aranda is viewed as one of the best defensive minds in college football, coordinating defenses at Cal Lutheran, Southern Utah, Hawai’i, Utah State, Wisconsin and LSU. In his second year at Baylor, the was named AP Big 12 Coach of the Year and won the George Munger Coach of the Year award.
He also does an excellent job recruiting and building a coaching staff, with Baylor’s 2023 class ranked 21st by 247 Sports. Aranda also has a master’s degree and brings a personality and approach that would fit nicely in California. Combine that with his ability to recruit in Texas and Aranda becomes the best candidate to take over at Stanford.
Chris Petersen, former Washington Huskies head coach
Initially kept off the list of Stanford coaching candidates out of uncertainty for his interest in returning to the sideline, Chris Petersen now seems like a viable possibility. If he is fully committed to being a college coach once again, he’ll likely be on the Cardinals’ shortlist.
- Chris Petersen coaching record: 147-38
The 58-year-old represents everything Stanford is looking for. He is a California native who grew up in Yuba City and then spent time playing quarterback at Sacramento City College and UC Davis. Immediately after his playing career ended, Petersen became an assistant on the UC Davis coaching staff.
He climbed the ladder quickly, becoming a quarterbacks coach by 1993 and later becoming Boise State’s offensive coordinator in 2001. After taking over as the Broncos’ head coach in 2006, the program went 92-12 with a 5-2 record in bowl games, three WAC titles and a Mountain West Championship.
Petersen made the jump to Washington in 2014, delivering one of the best runs in program history. Following a combined 15-12 record in his first two seasons, the Huskies went 32-9 over the next three years with appearances in the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl.
The question becomes if Petersen wants to come out of retirement to take on a challenging job like this one. He previously retired because of the toll coaching took on him and he previously indicated this year that he was still in the healing process. Coaching at Stanford comes with more anxiety and stress than he encountered at Washington, which remains the only pause when evaluating him as a candidate to become the next Stanford head coach.