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David Shaw: Great Coach Or Harbaugh Extension?

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Stanford coach David Shaw has earned lots of praise in a few seasons with the Cardinal, even drawing NFL attention. But how much of that is because of the way current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh set up the program when he resided in Palo Alto, Calif.? Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.
Stanford coach David Shaw has earned lots of praise in a few seasons with the Cardinal, even drawing NFL attention. But how much of that is because of the way current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh set up the program when he resided in Palo Alto, Calif.? Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

Just because someone is handed the keys to a Ferrari doesn't mean they know how to drive it.

David Shaw has had a tremendous amount of success since Jim Harbaugh handed him the Stanford football program, but some have questioned whether the Cardinal's recent run is actually Shaw's doing, or a lingering result of the Harbaugh era.

The answer is simple: It's Shaw.

In 2011, Shaw easily could have driven the Ferrari off the road, but instead he kept the engine purring as the Cardinal finished the season 11-2 with a Fiesta Bowl appearance. Stanford followed that up with 23 wins and two Rose Bowl appearances in the next two seasons.

Shaw, who has coached in both the NFL and NCAA, certainly learned a lot from Harbaugh, but also is his own man and his win-loss record is a reflection of his exceptional ability to coach.

Yes, Shaw was fortunate to inherit a great group of players, but it is important to remember that he was on Harbaugh's staff and likely had his hand in recruiting several of the players he inherited.

However, if Shaw wants to strengthen his legacy, the upcoming season will be a big one. Not only is Harbaugh's stamp on the program basically faded, but several key players will need to be replaced, so Shaw needs the recruiting he's done the last couple of seasons to pay dividends.

In addition, new starters will test Shaw's coaching and mentoring as he will have to teach them the scheme.

There may be some growing pains in 2014. A second-game matchup with USC may provide difficult, especially as new defensive starters learn the ropes, but there's no reason to believe Shaw's team won't finish the season among the nation's elite.

While it would have been easy to crash the Ferrari and derail the Stanford program, Shaw kept everything on course and in 2014 may find himself once again cruising down I-5 on the way to Pasadena.