As his tenure began in Palo Alto, Calif., first-year Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh found himself creating a buzz around the nation by saying things that many felt were off the wall.
However, three games into the 2007 season, the former NFL quarterback seems to have the Cardinal (1-2, 0-2 Pac-10) headed in the right direction and is now letting their progress on the field speak for him.
This weekend, Harbaugh and the Cardinal welcome No. 23 ASU (4-0, 1-0) to Stanford Stadium after battling No. 11 Oregon in a 51-33 loss, a game they led 31-24 at halftime.
“Stanford is a really improved football team. Coach Harbaugh has done a tremendous job,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said.
Although the Cardinal have a losing record, Harbaugh seems to have infused a whole new attitude. The Cardinal’s one win, equaling last season’s total, was a 37-0 blowout Sept. 15 over San Jose State, a team they lost to by a single point a year ago.
Following a tumultuous season last year when Stanford struggled to a 1-11 record, Harbaugh was hired to replace Walt Harris and take over the team that plays across the street from where he played high school football.
Three months into the job, Harbaugh made headlines with comments about No. 1 Southern California and coach Pete Carroll. He said he had talked to sources that said Carroll would only stay at USC for one more season.
Next, Harbaugh’s attention turned to his alma mater, Michigan. The former Wolverines star quarterback criticized the school’s academics in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner.
“Michigan is a good school, and I got a good education there, but the athletic department has ways to get borderline guys in, and, when they’re in, they steer them to courses in sports communications,” Harbaugh said.
“They’re adulated when they’re playing, but when they get out, the people who adulated them won’t hire them.”
Those surrounding Michigan football criticized Harbaugh, including coach Lloyd Carr and running back Mike Hart, as well as former teammate Jaime Harris, who said he ended his friendship with Harbaugh over the comments.
Harbaugh opened up about the Trojans again in July during Pac-10 football media day, this time praising their program in a way many felt was condescending.
“There is no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country and may be the best team in the history of college football,” Harbaugh said.
Having already made a name for himself in the Pac-10, Harbaugh is now pushing the Cardinal to a new level on the field.
Despite its two losses, Stanford has practically doubled the offensive output it had at this point in the season last year.
Harbaugh has attributed much of it to the development of a more experienced offensive line along with solid play from Cardinal quarterback T.C. Ostrander.
“Our offensive line has jelled really well together, like a lot of guys on our team, they want to raise their level of play, and I’ve been very pleased with how they’re progressing,” Harbaugh said.
Ostrander has benefited from the improved pass protection after taking a beating over the past few seasons while filling in for former Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards.
This season, Ostrander is fourth in the conference in passing yards per game, averaging 276, and has only thrown two interceptions in 131 attempts.
“When (Ostrander) has somebody open and the time to throw it he makes the play,” Harbaugh said. “He’s just been executing very well and has a good handle on the system.”
Erickson said he was impressed with the intensity of Stanford’s defense, which features the Pac-10’s leading tackler, free safety Bo McNally, who averages 10.7 per game.