David Shaw's recruiting philosophy, and why it's not 'a game show'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Tuesday February 07, 2017


Stanford signed a top-15 recruiting class with just 14 recruits, and it illustrated the state of the Cardinal program.

It means players aren’t leaving the program early unless it’s for the NFL. It means a lot of players return next year. It means Shaw can cherry-pick in recruiting, as he put it.

Shaw believes Stanford had fewer offers out than anyone else in the country. In an era when some schools throw out more than a hundred offers to get in the door, Stanford takes a different approach. In part because it needs to, with the academic standards.

“I don’t know the exact number, but it was nowhere close to 100, and it might have been in the 30s or 40s,” Shaw said on Fox Sports’ college football podcast, The Audible. ”And lot of those were initial offers, and a young man didn’t do well on a test academically and kind of fell off our board or decided not to cross the country. When it really came down to who we’re choosing from, we’re talking about 20 guys for 14 spots.

“I know what other people do, and you could look at it negatively or positively. A lot of people offer a whole bunch of guys, 'Let’s say we need three corners, and we offer 15.' Now for me, it feels like a game show. Who’s the first to jump? ‘This guy jumped, so somebody has to be next.’ For me, that pressuring guys to commit is the opposite of what I want to be.”

Shaw said that with each commit Stanford signed, nearly all were the only ones with Stanford offers at their position. Some others may have reported an offer, but didn’t qualify, and it just wasn’t publicized. It makes for a deeper relationship in the process.

“If we have two spots, I’m going to go after two guys we want,” Shaw said. “Whatever happens, now let’s go recruit the next guy. Some people say, ‘You came to me second.’ We came to you honestly. We’re going to be very systematic. We offered somebody else, they didn’t take it, we’re going to offer it to you as long as you want it.

“It allows us, honestly, to be more communicative with the guys we recruit. If you recruit less guys, you get to know them better, you talk to their coaches, counselors, families, and you spend more time communicating, as opposed to recruiting a bunch of guys. For us, it’s more intimate, we get to know them better, they get to know us better, and when they admitted, it means we typically get the guys we’re looking for.”

This year’s Stanford class included the No. 1-ranked pro-style quarterback in Davis Mills out of Georgia. But Shaw isn’t selling immediate playing time, especially at that position.

Don’t forget that Andrew Luck redshirted in 2008. Shaw says that’s expected for any QB that comes into the program. And when players like that buy in, you know you've got something.

So many people now think you have to promise and guarantee kids things to have them come,” Shaw said. “All we tell them is, ‘You’re going to have an opportunity, after you learn what to do.’ There’s almost a guaranteed redshirt year for quarterbacks for us. We’re going to teach you how to play the game, how to do it at a high level, and when you get your opportunity, we believe you’re going to play well. While you’re still learning and preparing for your opportunity, we have to have somebody playing.

“For these guys, it’s not like, ‘Come here, and you’re going to come in and be the guy.’ We’ve got a system now. It’s hard to take one in every single class, but you’re looking at guys that are very talented and understand what we do, and guys that wanted to come to Stanford University itself. Guys that want to be here, as opposed to guys that go somewhere to start their freshman, sophomore year and go be a superstar in the NFL. OK, that’s a promise somebody else is going to make.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.