Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hood Ornaments (plus: Harbaugh Hiring Hoopla!)

Now that America's candlelight vigil is officially over for those egghead climbers on Mt. Hood (or is it?), we can now return to the bidniss of praising Stanford University (or, as Lispy Lou Holtz is wont to call it -- "the University of Stanford") for an exceptional hire of Jim Harbaugh as the new head football coach.
It's what the dead explorers would have wanted.
In fact, the headline-inside-our-head shouts: "Hood Hikers Hail Harbaugh."

This was a smart move for Harbaugh, given that it may not have served his best interests to continue sharing greater San Diego with another ex-NFL QB as head coach of a college program (Chuck Long at San Diego State).
And, it seems like the logical choice for Stanford, given that ex-NFL QBs have often been overlooked as viable head-coach material (let's see, there's Spurrier and, ummm ... and, ummm ... and, ummmm ... that's right, Joe Kapp!).
Generally, ex-NFL QBs have thrived on the Arena League level (note Danny White and his always-dangerous Arizona Rattlers).

And, what a homecoming it'll be for a kid who went to high school right across El Camino Real from Stanford Stadium. Of course, when Harbaugh was the Palo Alto High QB, he saw the old, 86,000-seat stadium (built in 1921; bulldozed in 2005) across the street, rather than the new, 50,000-seat, tennis-stadium-shaped ballpark (completed in 2006) in which he'll be coaching for the first time, come Sept. '07.
Under Harbaugh's tutelage, it wouldn't surprise anyone if T.C. Ostrander breaks some of the records which Harbaugh witnessed back in '80 when sophomore John Elway was starting full-time (after sharing '79 with Turk Schonert) and leading the Cardinals (with an "s") during his final high school days.

Those were the days when Harbaugh's old man, Jack, was assisting some less-than-stellar Paul Wiggin teams (albeit, when it's Elway/Darrin Nelson/Ken Margerum -- as it was in '80 -- it's "less than stellar, but fun to watch").
If Young Jimmy HAD ended up at the university across the street from his high school instead of playing for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, he wouldn't have established such incredible reference points (i.e. "overcoming adversity") for his '07 Cardinal squad -- such as how he was the losing QB when the #2-ranked Wolverines were beaten in the final seconds by #1-ranked Iowa, 12-10, in '85 when Rob Houghtlin nailed that FG ... or how he was the losing QB when the #2-ranked Wolverines lost to Minnesota (one of only two UM losses to the Golden Gophers from 1968 thru 2004) on that Chip Lohmiller field goal ... or how his three INTs in his final college game made him the losing QB in a 22-15 defeat to Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.

Memories of playing in "the Big House" are distant -- and the Stanford Stadium that Young Jim knew as a teenager has yielded to the cozy, 50,000-seat, tennis-stadium-shaped ballpark.
The circumstances couldn't be more ideal for someone with Harbaugh's charisma, given that he has a swashbuckling aura which he'll take into the home of every potential recruit.
Buddy Teevens ... he was too nice, too sweet, too quaint, too much of a pencilneck ...
Walt Harris? Zero charisma -- and then he didn't know what on earth to do with all the mama's boys that Teevens had recruited.
Neither Teevens nor Harris was able to restore the Stanford Pride which Tyrone Willingham had refurbished. Buddy n' Walt went 0-5 against the Cal Bears (and ex-Fresno State QB Jeff Tedford) in "The Battle for the Axe."
Willingham was 7-0 against Cal.

Jim Harbaugh is a walking, talking comeback-kid story ... the NFL's "Captain Comeback" of the '95 season -- that is, until he ran into the Steeler wrecking crew in the '96 AFC Championship Game and was out-clutched by Neil O'Donnell, a painful reminder of nine years earlier when Harbaugh was upstaged in the Rose Bowl by an upstart ASU QB named Jeff Van Raaphorst.

Now, Harbaugh has the chance to avenge those deaths. Not to mention the death of that guy who fell from a beam during the construction of The New Stanford Stadium.
Following his back-to-back 11-1 seasons at the University of San Diego, Harbaugh seems like THE guy to turn a 1-11 Stanford team into something more like a 3-9 squad.
And don't rule out 3-9 or 4-8 in '08.
Unless they go back to the 11-game schedule in '08.
Then, you're probably looking at 3-8.

Just to demonstrate Harbaugh's immeasurable likability, one need look no further than the time in April '92 when he was a spectator at the NCAA Final Four in Minneapolis. Harbaugh was there for March Madness because, at the time, the hysteria of Michigan's "Fab Five In The Final Four" (no, none of those kids was recruited illegally, right, Steve Fischer? wink wink) was sweeping the nation -- and because Jim was dating one of Krzyzewski's daughters.
In the hotel where Duke was staying, Harbaugh had an encounter in the cocktail lounge with Mrs. PF7, back in an era when she wasn't yet Mrs. PF7 (and before Harbaugh was putting the name "Captain Comeback" on his business cards).
As she was reaching for a beer at the bar, Mrs. PF7 came face to face with the Losing QB of the '87 Rose Bowl.
Her to The Harb: "I know you. You went to Paly High."
The Harb's expression was, "Do I know you?" -- but before he could reach out and autograph a cocktail napkin, the Mrs. offered a big, fat "See ya!"

That's our girl ... messin' with big shots such as The Harb -- just as she'd done a few years earlier when she was leaning against a seated Schembechler so that she could say, "Hi, howya doin'?" to Millie Schembechler seated next to her hubby.
If only our girl had been wearing a "Go Blow" or a "Muck Fichigan" button for The Harb.
Jeez ... she really does hate Michigan (which is what makes her lovable).

Malibu Harbie ... he'll have his hands full, but again ... anything is possible for Captain Comeback. What makes matters difficult in the Pac-10 is that Mike Stoops is taking baby steps in turning around Arizona and Coach Willingham's resurrection of the U-Dub program is slow.
Now with Dennis Erickson fighting for respectability at ASU, competition will be fierce for the conference's best rebuilding format.
(*** Ya gotta love that big sham Erickson with that insipid look splashed across his face as he explains in a painful tone, "I didn't tell my players to talk smack, take off their helmets and get flagged 17 times for unsportsmanlike conduct, I mean, things just happen, so there's only so much that a head coach can do." +++ He's all yours, Pac-10!)

Given that ex-NFL QBs don't have much of a track record as college head coaches, Harbie can become a real trailblazer. Traditionally, ex-NFL QBs become TV spokesmen for the college game, i.e. Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Dan Fouts, Doug Flutie, Pat Haden, Mike Tomczak, Andre Ware ... who we forgettin'?

As per the "field generals" (with their "hot reads" and their "checkdowns"), the landscape of ex-NFL-QB-turned-college-coach is somewhat barren.
Other than the aforementioned Steve Spurrier and Joe Kapp, there's the five seasons that Mike Kruczek spent as the head man at Central Florida (before he ran afoul of the NCAA and moved on to the Arizona Cardinals) ... the five or six years that Doug Williams spent as the head man at his alma mater (Grambling) ... and, finally, there's the five years that Don Strock spent at Fla. Int'l., culminating with an 0-12 season rife with the backlash of the Miami brawl which led to Strock getting the axe recently.

That's ... the "bad" axe ... not the good axe, like the one Stanford will attempt to wrest away from Cal.
It'll be a tall order for Harbie to restore some dignity to a once-proud Stanford program, given the combination of a strong Cal program under Tedford, the revitalization of San Jose State under Dick Tomey and a Stanford offense which scored only 13 TDs in 12 games (and was rarely competitive in those 11 losses).
Now's the time to picture in your mind that ol' NFL Film footage of Lou Saban turning to his assistant coach and barking, "They're killin' me, Whitey! They're KILLIN' me!"

"I can't win with these gutless, sack-of-sh*t players that Teevens recruited, g*dd*mm*t!"

The overlooked factor working in Stanford's favor is the prep program right across the street ... the Paly Powerhouse which Earl Hansen and his dedicated assistant coaches (such as the former Pac-10 field-goal blocking specialist, Peter Hansen) have molded into one of the best prep programs in California state history.
Just last weekend, Paly played in the first statewide championship series since 1927, so, heck yeah ... Paly figures to be a formidable feeder program for Harbaugh's BCS aspirations.
Harbaugh might be tempted to add to his coaching staff the 6-foot-8 Pete Hansen, just to stick it in the face of Tomey (who coached Hansen at Arizona) and demonstrate that just because a kid is 6-foot-8, he's not a football-playin' freak show.
He's a QB, dammit.
He's an athlete, for heaven's sake.
And a human being.

Aside from the "Will Jim Add 6-Foot-8 Peter Hansen To His Initial Coaching Staff?" another delicious sidebar is the reunification of Harbaugh with his 1980 backfield mate from Paly, ex-fullback Craig Wentz (currently of the Palo Alto Weekly).
Although Craig is a prep-sports beat writer, he's probably just the man to author, "Harbaugh: Yesterday's QB, Tomorrow's Rose Bowl Coach."
Wait ... what about "today"?
Probably "Current USC Punching Bag."

Readers, though, should keep and eye out for Weekly Wentz's articles in which Craig takes a modern-day Harbaugh moment (like, let's say, a complete ass-kicking by UCLA) and then relates it to "Harbaugh '80."
Many paragraphs of Craig's first-person accounts will begin with: "Although Stanford was no match for the Bruins, it reminded me of the time when we were playing Gunn and Jim walked into the huddle and, well ... you'll never believe what he said."
That (see previous sentence) is what we call "a teaser."

Either way, there's a renaissance afoot along El Camino Real.
It was signaled the moment that Harbaugh was officially introduced as Stanford's head coach.
The Pinot Grigio will be flowing tonight ...

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