Stanford football has certainly become more relevant the past few seasons and the man wearing the headset is probably the one to thank. While Andrew Luck should keep the Cardinal in the spotlight for at least one more season, it was Jim Harbaugh’s high-intensity method of coaching that sparked an unbelievable turnaround in what seemed to be a defunct program.
Harbaugh's recent successful tenure certainly put Stanford back on the map, but with the long-and-storied history of the Cardinal, where does he rank among the greatest coaches ever to take the reins in Palo Alto?
Let's take a look at the top 10 Stanford Cardinal head coaches and see who tops the list.
Although C.D Bliss only coached the Cardinal for one season, he did not lose a game.
He is the only Stanford head coach to have an undefeated record (8-0-1).
James F. Lanagan coached Stanford for three seasons, posting a 23-2-4 record and earning the highest winning percentage (.862) of any Cardinal coach appearing in at least 10 games.
Lanagan finished two seasons undefeated and was Stanford’s last football coach before the program was replaced by rugby in 1906.
Although Chuck Taylor ranks fourth in wins (40) amongst Stanford coaches, his tenure in Palo Alto was anything but consistent.
Taylor started his time with Stanford with a bang, winning the conference title in his first season, but eventually losing the Rose Bowl 40-7 to Illinois.
This roller-coaster ride would continue with Taylor as the head coach for the next six years. Stanford would not have back-to back-winning or losing seasons under Taylor.
Clark Shaughnessy was the only Stanford coach to go undefeated with 10 or more wins without a tie.
In his first season as the head coach, Shuaghnessy marched the Indians (Stanford’s mascot at the time) to a Pacific Coast Conference title and went on to beat Nebraska in the Rose Bowl to finish the season with a perfect record.
While Shaughnessy was a controversial hire prior to the season, he silenced all critics by providing Stanford with their last national championship in 1940.
An unexpected successor to Bill Walsh, Tyrone Willingham managed to gain several supporters during his time in Palo Alto.
Willingham led the Cardinal to four bowl games, including a Rose Bowl in 1999, which was the last year Stanford took home the Pac-10 title. He also currently sits third in the wins (44) column among all former Stanford head coaches.
The story of Jim Harbaugh’s success at Stanford is hardly a secret.
During his four years as the Cardinal head coach, he increased Stanford’s win total every year, culminating in a 12-1 season in 2010—the most wins in a single season by any Stanford coach.
Harbaugh led Stanford to their first BCS bowl and produced two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in his final two seasons in Palo Alto.
In his first two seasons as Stanford’s head coach, Bill Walsh led the Cardinal to back-to-back bowl games before becoming a legend by the Bay with the San Francisco 49ers.
After retiring from the 49ers, Walsh returned to Stanford in 1992 and kept the bowl streak alive, tying for the Pac-10 Conference title and finishing the season ranked ninth in the polls.
Two consecutive losing seasons would follow, leading Walsh to finally retire from coaching for good.
Claude E. Thornhill started his tenure at Stanford arguably stronger than any other coach in the school’s history. Under the direction of Thornhill, Stanford reached the Rose Bowl in his first three seasons as head coach, but only pulled off one Rose Bowl victory.
Thronhill’s final four seasons were otherwise terrible, only posting one winning season and he was eventually fired after putting together a miserable 1-7-1 season in 1932.
Second in wins (55) as a Stanford head coach, John Ralston is probably mostly noted for the performance with which he finished his Stanford coaching career.
In Ralston’s final two seasons with Stanford, he did something that no other Stanford coach has ever been able to do—win back-to-back, outright Pac-8 titles and win back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
After leading the Indians to a second Rose Bowl victory, Ralston jumped ship to the Denver Broncos, where he provided that franchise with their first winning season in the team’s history.
As the coach with the most wins (71) in Stanford football history, Glenn “Pop” Warner will always be a gleaming figure for the program from Palo Alto.
Warner reached the Rose Bowl in three of his first four seasons and led Stanford to a shared national title in 1926 (Stanford shared the national title with Alabama after tying them in the Rose Bowl 7-7).
While Stanford has seen some great coaches walk through their tunnels, Warner’s winning numbers and championship with the Cardinal speak louder than words.