"He came here, he played here, he knows what the type of players who go here are like," said fifth-year linebacker Chase Thomas, who was recruited by Harbaugh. "The strenuous activities of school and athletics. He knows what Stanford is about, and he definitely shows that."
Shaw has emerged from the shadow of the man who rebuilt Stanford and put his own stamp on the program.
He doesn't sleep in his office, work 20-hour days or show emotion the way Harbaugh often did. He avoids scheduling early morning meetings so assistant coaches can have breakfast with their kids and take them to school.
Often times his wife and their three children — Keegan, Carter and Gavin — are waiting after practice. On Tuesday nights, the coaches and their families meet for dinner in the athletic offices before late-night meetings, and Thursday nights he usually lets his staff take off so they can come in fresh Friday morning.
All the while taking time to appreciate, as he has said since he was hired, "the job I always knew that I wanted."
"I can remember Dave telling me that in Pocatello, Idaho, close to 13 years ago," said Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason, whose name is also sure to generate attention for head coaching vacancies. "All he ever wanted to do was get back to Stanford. So to say that then, and he's always been a man of his word, so I truly believe that whatever he says goes."
Shaw's coaching background has been well documented: he was an assistant in the NFL for Philadelphia, Oakland and Baltimore before joining Harbaugh as an assistant at the University of San Diego. He joined Harbaugh at Stanford in 2007 and coached receivers and running backs while also serving as offensive coordinator for four years.
Shaw often credits coaching mentors Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Ray Rhodes, Dennis Green, Tyrone Willingham, Harbaugh and Walsh, among others. Nobody, though, has had a greater impact on his life and career than his father, a retired NFL and college assistant who had two stints as a Stanford position coach and was a finalist for the Cardinal head coaching job in 1992 before Walsh decided to return at the last minute.
Watching his son take hold of the Stanford program the last two years — and often helping out as a keen observer during practices — has only made it more special since that first conversation in the head coach's office, when Willie Shaw remembers how the two talked about "his goals, his dreams, how he has become an extension of my dreams and taking it a step further."
"At Stanford," Willie Shaw said, "he's at home."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP