Willie Shaw likes to tell this story about his son David, who just happens to be Stanford's football coach, whose team just happens to be playing in Tuesday's Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.
David, a Stanford graduate, asked his future wife Kori to marry him in front of Memorial Church on the Stanford campus. She said yes. He said they would have to wait before taking their vows. She asked why. He said there was a year's waiting list for Memorial Church. She agreed to wait.
David Shaw played wide receiver at Stanford from 1991-94, played for Denny Green and Bill Walsh. Father Willie twice was an assistant at Stanford and held several coaching jobs in the NFL. He would have taken over at Stanford in 1992 if Walsh had not shown interest in returning at the 11th hour. To which Willie always says, "If I had the choice between Bill Walsh and me, I would have chosen Bill Walsh."
Now, David, 40, has the job Willie almost had. This season his Cardinal defeated the Associated Press' No.1 and No. 2 teams, Oregon and USC, and Stanford recently extended his contract.
So, this is a love story about a man and a school, and it's a story of a man being at the exact right place at the exact right time.
Shaw recently sat in his office for an interview. It is the office Walsh used and the office Jim Harbaugh used, and every time you meet Shaw you are meeting the extension of a great coaching tradition.
As an undergraduate, was Shaw already starting to think like a coach?
"I didn't know it but, yes," he said. "I never thought about it until the younger players started calling me &‘Coach Shaw.' My fourth and fifth years, I became annoying because I was the one who said, &‘Hey, you're too short to get your depth. It's supposed to be 12 yards, not 10. Hey, you're going the wrong way. Hey, your splits are too wide.'
"To give myself the best opportunity to play, I had to know everything. I had to know all the positions. I got to the point, even as a receiver, I understood the protections. I understood where the quarterback was going to be hot.
"My sophomore year I roomed with (quarterback) Steve Stenstrom and I asked him about his reads and Steve would always talk about his progressions. There were times where I was out at my position and I saw the coverage and I knew if I was going to get the ball or not because, if it's Cover 2, I'm not even in the progression vs. Cover 3, I'm No. 2 in the progression, so I better get to my spot.
"I was already thinking about our offense, how it relates to the defense, what the strengths and weaknesses of both were. Without knowing, I was thinking like a coach."
When Walsh would diagram a play to the offense, Shaw didn't just listen to what Walsh said about wide receiver. He wanted to understand each role, all 11 of them. He'd go to Stenstrom and ask him to go over every aspect of the play.
When they graduated, Stenstrom, who is now president of Pro Athletes Outreach, a religious counseling resource, understanding Shaw would rise to whatever coaching level he chose, told him half-jokingly, "I hope you will consider me for your offensive coordinator."