Ann Killion
Tuesday February 22nd, 2011

On Monday, David Shaw went to work at the best job in college football.

"I would agree with that," Shaw said.

Others wouldn't. But consider: Stanford is a swell place to work. The pressures are not mind-boggling. And Shaw -- in his very first head coaching job -- inherited the best quarterback in college football, Andrew Luck.

"I'm extremely fortunate to be in this place," Shaw said. "I plan to be here a long time. But I'm fortunate to be here with Andrew."

Shaw, 38, is a relative unknown, a quiet assistant working in anonymity for the past four years while the spotlight focused on his boss, Jim Harbaugh.

Shaw is a marked contrast to his animated, in-your-face predecessor. In his mellow pre-spring football press conference, Shaw did not proclaim that at Stanford "we bow to no man" or that he would coach with "an enthusiasm unknown to mankind." He didn't utter any phrases worthy of a T-shirt. The most intense he got was while insisting that he will follow Harbaugh's policy of not discussing injuries.

"He's a little less eccentric and maybe a little less polarizing than the guy we had before, not to detract anything from Coach Harbaugh or Coach Shaw," Luck told The New York Times in a recent interview. "They're definitely different personalities and go about it different ways."

Stanford will be forced to go about things in a different way. The Cardinal started spring football Monday -- getting an early jump on the 15 allotted practices -- with the same quarterback but a different look. New players. New coaches. And new expectations.

Rather than either goose or downplay the expectations created by the Harbaugh era -- and last season's 12-1 season -- Shaw ignored them.

"I don't spend a minute of time thinking about it," Shaw said. "I'd love for there to be some momentum. But those oranges from the Orange Bowl, they rot. You've got to start over."

Stanford will begin the 2011 season highly ranked. But with 19 veterans departing, the Cardinal has many question marks.

"We have leadership roles that need to be filled," Shaw said. "Who's going to seize the opportunity?"

Among the departed is two-way star Owen Marecic, whom Shaw -- calling Marecic a "once in a generation player" -- said it would take four guys to replace: one at linebacker and three at fullback. Center Chase Keeler, who made the calls on the offensive line, and line mates Derek Hall and Andrew Phillips are gone. There's a void at receiver with the departures of Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen. Nose tackle Sione Fua has also moved on.

The adjustments aren't just on the field. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive assistant Greg Roman followed Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw is filling the Fangio void with both Derek Mason, from the Stanford staff, and Jason Tarver. He promoted Pep Hamilton to offensive coordinator and recently hired Mike Sanford to coach running backs and Mike Bloomgren as offensive line/running game coordinator.

Tarver came to Stanford from the 49ers. Sanford was an offensive assistant at Stanford in 2007-08. Bloomgren was an assistant offensive coordinator with the New York Jets -- he and Shaw knew each other through Jets assistant Bill Callahan, whom Shaw worked for with the Raiders. Shaw said the play calling would be shared by Bloomgren, Hamilton and himself.

The focus will, of course, be on Luck. Luck finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting and is considered the best pro prospect to come along in years. He stunned the football world last month by passing up the NFL draft -- where he was likely to be the top pick -- in order to stay at Stanford.

His immediate future rests in Shaw's hands.

"He doesn't see himself as a finished product," Shaw said. "There's no standing pat with Andrew. He wants to push and improve himself. Andrew is competing against Andrew."

And Shaw is overseeing the competition.

It may be the best job in college football, but it comes with a load of pressure.

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