Oregon-Stanford: Which coach has the edge in (basically) the Pac-12 North Championship Game?

The fate of the Pac-12 North will be decided on Saturday at Stanford Stadium. If Stanford wins, they clinch the Pac-12 North outright, earn the right to host the first-ever Pac-12 Championship game, and place themselves firmly into the national championship discussion. If Oregon wins, they put themselves one win away from clinching the Pac-12 North, and establish themselves at the top of the crop of one-loss teams. Both offenses feature 2010 Heisman finalists, and can put up points on any defense in the country, and both defenses are stingy in the red zone, and quick to capitalize on opponents' mistakes. With the two teams so evenly matched from a talent standpoint, coaching becomes all more important. And the two coaches that will man the sidelines have put together two wildly different, but equally effective teams. Today, we take a closer look at Stanford head coach, excuse me, Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football David Shaw, and Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, and the philosophies they bring to their respective programs. 

Stanford head coach David Shaw is in his first year as a head coach at any level, but possesses a wealth of knowledge gained from his experiences as both a college and pro assistant coach. He played receiver at Stanford from '91-'94 for a couple pretty good head coaches: Dennis Green and Bill Walsh. He worked with Jon Gruden in Oakland, and Brian Billick in Baltimore before joining Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego in 2006. Only a year later, he was back at his alma mater, this time as the offensive coordinator. In his career, he has tutored linebackers, tight ends, quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs. Also of note, Shaw owns a bachelor's degree in sociology, with a specialty in motivational behavior. Seems like a pretty good thing to specialize in when you must lead and motivate an elite college football team.

With Shaw's experience in the pro ranks, it's easy to see why Stanford runs a pro-style system. Their philosophy is a balanced attack, anchored by big and powerful linemen and tight ends that are efficient blockers in both the run and the passing game. Drawing from his time spent learning from coaches Green, Walsh, and Gruden, Shaw's playcalling has a heavy West Coast influence, and showcases quarterback Andrew Luck's accuracy and field awareness. Stanford switches up offensive personnel quite a bit, sometimes running a four WR set and a three TE set on the same drive. 

Like Shaw at Stanford, Chip Kelly's current head coaching job is the only head coaching job he has ever held. Like Shaw, Kelly has coached a multitude of positions; the first coaching job for the offensive innovator was actually coaching the defensive backs and special teams at Columbia University. After serving as Johns Hopkins' defensive coordinator for a season, and coaching running backs and the offensive line at New Hampshire, he was promoted to UNH offensive coordinator in 1999. He turned the Wildcats into an offensive machine with his spread option system, and caught the eye of Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who hired Kelly to install his spread prior to the 2007 season. The Chip Kelly philosophy starts and ends with one thing: speed. Oregon practices fast, plays fast, and recruits fast players. Kelly's playcalling gets those fast playmakers the ball in space by spreading the field and creating blocking mismatches. 

Both coaches run their programs in a similar fashion, leading by example and stressing the importance of being more than just an athlete. Both offenses rely on deception, whether it be Oregon's zone read or Stanford's playaction and varied personnel. And both coaches have shown the ability to succeed immediately despite their relative inexperience as head coaches. 

I find the contrast in backgrounds between the two coaches particularly interesting. David Shaw spent years learning from a number of highly regarded head coaches, both in college and in the NFL, and, thus, his football philosophy is very much a part of the "how things work" school of thought; this is how a football offense is run, and the team that runs it the most effectively will win the game. Chip Kelly had no significant playing career, and spent his early career working at schools with very little weight given to athletics. Instead of gleaning traditional football information from traditional football minds, he was able to experiment with new ideas. At programs with very little exposure and low expectations, he took risks that coaches at more high-profile schools could not. His forward thinking brought about the spread option, and he continues to add new wrinkles to the system today. 

Both David Shaw and Chip Kelly have proven their mettle as Pac-12 head coaches from Day 1 on the job, and will match wits with each other for the first time on Saturday. Time will tell whether Coach Shaw's pro-style approach will outplay Coach Kelly's uptempo spread, but both coaches give their teams an excellent chance at victory. 

Don’t forget to show support for your favorite coach by voting him as the 2011 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year at www.coachoftheyear.com

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