David Shaw was finally asked the question he has been waiting for since he turned sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey loose on the college football world:
“Do you guys have any plans to promote Christian for the Heisman?”
His response: “For the what?”
Media folks chuckled politely at Shaw’s sarcastic, side-stepping response, but the determined reporter wouldn’t let the Stanford coach off the hook that easy, following up with question about a possible timeline and a snide comment about the lack of promotion that ultimately cost former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart the Heisman in 2009.
Shaw then uttered the coach’s equivalent of “let's take this outside” by saying he and the reporter should “have this conversation another time, off the record.” (Insert “Fifty Shades of Shaw” face here.)
But what he did respond with made a lot of sense. He mentioned that it’s still early and that while McCaffrey is “a dynamic football player, that stuff really takes shape later in the year.” He also gave the media a glimpse at his thought process when it comes to promoting players for awards and honors.
“There is nothing that anybody can say that actually works, outside of playing great,” said Shaw. “There’s nothing, right? There have been billboards in New York, there have been mail campaigns and email campaigns and text message campaigns, and there are so many different things that I think it becomes a huge distraction. And none of it is proven to work.”
So what’s a player to do? Shaw had an answer for that as well.
#Stanford head coach David Shaw on how to win the #Heisman. https://t.co/PV6pSpnYP9
— Emily Van Buskirk (@Emilnem) October 21, 2015
As for the Gerhart argument, Shaw verbally attributed that to the Pac-12’s lack of a championship game at the time and non-verbally alluded to the East Coast bias everybody is always talking about.
“We were all sick for Toby — you could say that we didn’t do enough; you could say that we needed to play one more game,” said Shaw. “Because if the vote happens after Notre Dame, he wins the Heisman. It’s over. He rushes for 200 yards on national television against Notre Dame and throws the game-winning touchdown — I mean, that’s storybook stuff. But we didn’t have a conference championship game at the time, the SEC did, and the Alabama running back had an outstanding game and edged him out.”
Fortunately, the Andrew Luck snubs didn’t make it into the past Stanford Heisman winners-that-weren’t conversation. But Stanford’s Heisman future looks bright with a candidate like McCaffrey and social media platforms like Twitter to keep players relevant despite their conferences and time zones.
McCaffrey’s season has shaped up nicely, with the sophomore standout catching stride, and the national media’s eye, at what Shaw feels is just the right time.
“You know, we’re six games in — it’s early,” Shaw said. “We’ve been through this thing a lot. It’s great that he’s gotten recognition; we knew this was going to come at some point, and that’s fine.”
Fine like the fact that his 844 rushing yards rank second in the Pac-12 and 10th overall in the nation, and he leads the country with 253 all-purpose yards per game.
In comparison, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, the current Heisman favorite, ranks second with 209.67 yards per game. The Tigers' sophomore running back leads the nation with 1,202 rushing yards and is tied for first with Houston’s quarterback Greg Ward Jr. for rushing touchdowns with 14.
But McCaffrey’s performance against UCLA alone shows why he is Heisman material — 243 rushing yards, 369 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. Both the rushing and all-purpose yards broke school records — all from a kid who had a combined 32 carries for 124 yards in Stanford’s first two games against Northwestern and UCF.
Even opposing Pac-12 coaches have McCaffrey’s back when it comes to Heisman chatter.
“How McCaffrey is not mentioned in the Heisman thing, I have no idea," said Oregon State head coach Gary Anderson during Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches conference call. “I mean, that is the most amazing thing right now in college football to me — the fact that that kid is not up there when they start talking about the Heisman. He’s one of best players I’ve played against for a long, long time.”
College football is a fickle mistress, Gary, and the Heisman race feeds off of fluidity. Right now, the ESPN tracking poll shows McCaffrey in seventh, with two third-place and two fifth-place votes. But next week, it could be some other late bloomer, shattering school records on his way into the national media's collective heart.
In the meantime, don’t expect an email blast or a scheduled tweet from Shaw — only continued solid play from McCaffrey, which likely translates into more victories for Stanford.
“Trust me, we have been through this a lot, and I’ve studied it a lot even when we didn’t have a candidate just to watch and see,” said Shaw on the Heisman process. “I’ve gone back years, and nothing anybody does works — outside of playing great football and winning games late in the year.”
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.