He was asked Saturday night after his announcement to put the experience of his coaching tenure into one word. He couldn't do it then but came up with a response at his farewell press conference Monday morning.
"Magical," Shaw said. "It's like a dream. Holding up that Rose Bowl (Game) trophy two times, standing there with my family. Like a dream. Watching some of these guys get drafted and have great NFL careers. Magical. Watching some of those who didn't go to the NFL go to grad school, medical school, law school, start companies. Magical, almost like it wasn't real. Most importantly, we changed a lot of lives."
Shaw, 50, has been affiliated with Stanford for 25 years. His history on The Farm started at the age of 3 when his father, Willie, served as an assistant football coach. He later became a wide receiver in the early 1990s, an offensive coordinator and, for the last 12 years, the head coach.
It's time for him to step back, but not for good as a coach.
"Notice I did not say the word retirement," Shaw said. "It's time for me to step away, time for Stanford to find that next person to lead. I can't wait for Stanford to be on top again.
"My mind is around my family and spending time with my family. We have transition in our family right now, which is great and exciting. And then we'll see what happens with me over time. I know I'll field some calls, but I'm not ready to jump into anything right now. I'm going to take my time.
"And when the right thing presents itself, both whether it's near future or down the road, I'll know. We'll pray about it and think about it and make the right decision at the right time. But for right now, I'm proud to be a Stanford fan. That's my big occupation right now, outside of time with my family," Shaw said.
Shaw took over as head coach in 2011. His first Stanford team scored a school-record 561 points. The Cardinal went a combined 82-26 over his first eight seasons as coach.
His teams did it playing a physical style of power football, imposing their will at the line of scrimmage — quite a contrast from the finesse approach Stanford had previously been associated with for decades.
Then a change of fortune took place. Stanford went 14-28 over his final four seasons, leading to Shaw's resignation.
As Shaw mentioned at Monday's press conference, his toughest recruiting year was during the COVID-19 pandemic, when recruits could not be brought to the campus. In the shortened 2020 season, the Stanford football team played all its games away from home due to stringent Santa Clara County Public Health Department directives.
Over the last two years, the changing landscape of college football put Stanford at an extreme disadvantage. As player empowerment has come to the forefront, the transfer portal allowed players to move from one school to another without having to sit out or lose eligibility. For example, the University of Southern California picked up Stanford's top running back from last season, Austin Jones, and the University of Oregon's top running back, Travis Dye. Both those players stepped in immediately and contributed greatly to USC's success this season. USC brought in a total of 26 transfers and improved from 4-8 to 11-1.
Historically, Stanford accepted very few transfers due to its academic requirements and philosophical underpinnings.
Shaw noted during the press conference that Stanford has made the decision to accept early enrollees, one step in narrowing the developing chasm between the Cardinal and its contemporaries.
"We want to compete at the highest level," Stanford director of athletics Bernard Muir said. "The last couple years trying to navigate the landscape of college football, which has changed so dramatically, it has been difficult.
"We're having conversations with admissions and seeing if we can find the right student-athletes. If they meet the academic requirements I think they can get in. We can't build a whole roster of transfers, but hopefully we can dip our toe in the water and see if there's the right individuals that can join this program," Muir said.
Name, image and likeness (NIL) — the NCAA-approved policy that allows athletes to be compensated for endorsement and promotional opportunities in the private sector — is the other aspect of player empowerment that has come into play and has been problematic for Stanford.
"We're going to continue to evaluate NIL and find appropriate balance as to how we can provide education for our student-athletes and how they can thrive in that space," Muir said. "It will be rooted in education, whatever we do.
"We know others are a little more aggressive in that space right now, and we have to find what is the right fit for Stanford. We have a group on campus of administrators who are looking at this, and faculty," he said.
The Cardinal finished 3-9 in each of the last two seasons, but at the Monday press conference Muir expressed optimism about the future.
"There's a way for Stanford to be successful because it's Stanford," he said. "Stanford can be successful on the national stage, has done it before and can do it again."
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