Get hyped as Iowa takes on Stanford in the Rose Bowl game on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. Rachel Mummey/The Register
LOS ANGELES – Bob Bowlsby’s pursuit of a coach to lead Stanford football began almost five years ago with the same rudiments that guided his search more than a decade earlier at Iowa.
First and foremost, he wanted a man of integrity as the face of his biggest revenue-generating program. He wanted a leader with a steadfast work ethic.
He hired David Shaw to replace Jim Harbaugh, who left for the NFL. And he wound up with a coach who shares many of the same fundamental football values as Kirk Ferentz, the guy Bowlsby employed in 1998 at Iowa.
“They’re both real builders, too,” said Bowlsby, a Waterloo native who left the Hawkeyes in 2006 for Stanford and then jumped at an opportunity in 2012 to serve as the Big 12 commissioner. “They believe in not necessarily doing all their recruiting based upon how many stars a kid’s got but what kind of personality they have and what kind of motor they have and what kind of person they are and what kind of work ethic they have. They’ve both had really good success with building teams in the weight room.”
The substance-over-style approach employed by Ferentz and Shaw has led Iowa and Stanford to a meeting in Friday’s Rose Bowl, a rare high-profile college football clash featuring two coaching combatants hired by the same athletic director.
“It is unusual,” Ferentz said.
In 1998, Ferentz faced the task of replacing iconic coach Hayden Fry, who led Iowa to three Rose Bowl trips before the Hawkeyes slipped to 3-8 in his final season. Though Fry’s program reached its apex during an eight-year stretch when Ferentz coached Iowa’s offensive line, Ferentz, then an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, wasn’t the popular choice. A faction of Hawkeye fans that had their hearts set on former Iowa safety Bob Stoops, who accepted the Oklahoma job days before Bowlsby zeroed in on Ferentz.
The Hawkeyes went 4-19 in Ferentz’s first two seasons, but the program took off in 2001 and the Rose Bowl marks Iowa’s 13th bowl trip in 15 years.
Like Ferentz, Shaw had an intimate understanding of his school’s culture prior to becoming the head coach. The Stanford graduate spent nine seasons in the NFL as an assistant before returning to the Cardinal in 2007 as Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator.
Harbaugh pulled the program out of a 1-11 wreckage in the season prior to his arrival and he told Bowlsby he planned to stick around for a decade. But after Stanford went 12-1 in 2010 and won the Orange Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers pried him away with a $25 million contract.
Bowlsby considered three in-house candidates – Shaw, associate head coach Greg Roman (now the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills) and Vic Fangio (now the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears) – and reportedly also discussed the job in-depth with Chris Petersen, then one of the college football’s hottest coaching prospects at Boise State.
The pair of head coaches talk about the upcoming Rose Bowl matchup on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016 in Pasadena, Calif. Bryon Houlgrave/The Register
“I don’t know that David would’ve been the guy that I would’ve hired four years prior when a major turnaround was necessary,” Bowlsby said. “But he is, I think, just the right kind of guy to continue to move it forward after the turnaround that Jim Harbaugh and his staff have realized.”
Under Shaw, Stanford has developed into the Pac-12’s most consistent winner. The Cardinal have posted a 53-14 mark in his five seasons and this marks their third Rose Bowl trip in four years.
“I thought they were outstanding when coach Harbaugh took over and, to me, coach Shaw has taken them to a new level,” Ferentz said. “What they stand for is everything that’s great in college football. We’ve watched them play through the years mainly because I admire the way they play. We’re not exactly the same schematically, but I think we share some similar beliefs. … They’re a tough-minded, hard-nosed team.”
Shaw offered a similar take on Ferentz’s team.
“They kind of remind us of us, and I don’t want those guys to look at it as disrespectful at all,” he said. “I mean, they play the way that we want to play. You put on the film and you see 11 guys on defense getting after the football. Offensively, you see 11 guys doing what they’re supposed to do.”
A whirlwind tour of appearances at Big 12 bowl games will prevent Bowlsby from seeing his coaching hires match wits in person. But he intends to set aside time Friday to watch the Rose Bowl.
“I have to admit I would love to get on the center medallion at the Rose Bowl and have a picture with the two of them,” he said. “But they’re going to have to Photoshop me in.”