Pac-10 Notebook | Stanford still can't draw a crowd, could lose coach
Against all good sense, logic and convention, Stanford beat USC last year as a 41-point underdog, the biggest upset by point spread in the...
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Against all good sense, logic and convention, Stanford beat USC last year as a 41-point underdog, the biggest upset by point spread in the history of college football.
Saturday is the rematch at Stanford Stadium. No doubt a game between the Trojans and the bowl-hopeful Cardinal will pack the premises downsized three years ago. But these days, you can't take a lot for granted regarding Stanford's fan base.
One of the Pac-10 puzzlers of 2008 — other than where all the quarterbacks went, of course — is why Stanford can't draw. Jim Harbaugh has revitalized a program that was 1-11 two seasons ago and turned it into a formidable, physical outfit that apparently can hang with anybody in the league.
This, in a 50,000-seat jewel of a stadium completely rebuilt for the '06 season.
For some reason, this isn't enough for the chardonnay lovers under the eucalyptus trees. Stanford's biggest crowd is 33,293 (for San Jose State).
We'll give them a pass for the 8,000 or so that were there to see Washington State on a miserable day. But observers say there were no more than 25,000 in the house to see a rousing win over Arizona, when the official count was 30,689.
What gives? Is it the lag effect of six straight losing seasons after 2001? Can it possibly be that a fan base bred on the Stanford quarterback legacy — Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, John Elway — isn't stimulated by Harbaugh-ball?
Harbaugh sidestepped the question Tuesday on the Pac-10 coaches call, likening the process of re-establishing the base to baseball's regaining its support after the 1994 strike.
"I believe they'll be back in force," he said. "And we'll need 'em this week."
But make no mistake, this is a sore subject with Harbaugh. After the Arizona game he asked reporters, "How could you not want to come watch this team? How could these seats not be filled?"
The issue takes on added impact with speculation that Al Davis is interested in hiring Harbaugh to coach the carnival he operates in Oakland. Apparently, Harbaugh is one of the few people that don't think Davis is merely a gnarled, elfin figure who dresses like he has a part in "Grease." They like each other.
Wrote Tim Kawakami last week in the San Jose Mercury News: "Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh is guaranteed a very long and warm talk with Al Davis — and probably an offer to become the next Raiders coach — this December or January."
This week, Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby e-mailed the Mercury News that he has met with Harbaugh and his agent and said, "We will be happy to extend Jim as long as he would like to be extended."
That sounds grand, but ultimately inconclusive. If Harbaugh elects to move on, the fan support will play a part. Nothing turns off a coach more than the notion that his work isn't appreciated.
It wasn't always this way at Stanford, but those who know the program say the school doesn't do much marketing, that it seems OK with an aging and static fan base.
In the final 25 years of the old, 85,000-seat stadium, there were exactly 50 crowds in excess of 50,000. In 1983, a 1-10 season the year after the departure of the great Elway, there were four crowds bigger than 55,000.
That's not possible anymore. But supporting a rising team is.
And what's more ...
• Arizona State kicker/punter Thomas Weber, who booted three field goals in the victory over Washington, is the Pac-10 special-teams player of the week. The Huskies whiffed on an opportunity to pay tribute to kicker Ryan Perkins, who is finishing his career with a painfully shredded knee. Perkins kicked four field goals but wasn't nominated for the honor; a UW spokesman says it's normally done only after victories.
• Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, asked if he would pay to see Rick Neuheisel's return to Seattle this week: "No, I would not. In fact, I wouldn't even watch that game on television. I'm still shocked that game is on and ours is not."
• USC coach Pete Carroll believes the answer is clear on why Stanford upset his team last year: "I played a quarterback [John David Booty] with a broken bone on his throwing hand. I just made a mistake in judgment. We should have gone with Mark [Sanchez]."
• Jacquizz Rodgers is the third true freshman in Pac-10 history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. OSU coach Mike Riley recruited two of them, Rodgers and ex-Beaver Ken Simonton.
• OSU hosts Cal on Saturday, which ought to be a good thing for the Beavers. But the visiting team has won the past five games in the series.
• No wonder WSU and Washington have combined for one win. Opponents have made 104 trips into the red zone of the two and scored 96 times.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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