SEATTLE -- So what does new Stanford coach David Shaw think of those who wonder if the new head man will be as good as the old one?
"I agree with them," Shaw said at Pac-12 media day last month.
Those four words speak volumes to the differences between Shaw and Jim Harbaugh, the man he replaced. Harbaugh seemed to have a perpetual chip on his shoulder during a four-year run at Stanford in which he turned the Cardinal from a 1-11 embarrassment to a 12-1 national power.
"(Harbaugh) fought a lot of battles I don't have to fight," Shaw said.
In contrast, Shaw says his job is to "maintain" what Harbaugh built.
It helps that he was among those doing the constructing. Shaw was offensive coordinator for Harbaugh's tenure at Stanford, while helping recruit quarterback Andrew Luck.
The son of longtime NFL and college assistant Willie Shaw, David Shaw was a receiver at Stanford who thought about going into management before his father's connections helped get him a job as an assistant at Western Washington under then-head coach Robin Ross in 1996.
He quickly found the same love for coaching as his father, moving into the NFL after two years at Western, and joining Harbaugh at the University of San Diego in 2006 and Stanford the following year.
While Harbaugh has gotten much-deserved credit for what's happened, Shaw said the overall talent base has also increased markedly, which he thinks can keep the good times rolling.
"They would always talk about how difficult it is to recruit at Stanford," he said. "Jim and us as a staff (decided) it's not difficult as long as you are willing to go coast-to-coast. You've got to find 20 guys a year that are good students and good football players and if you look hard enough you will find them, and then you've got to convince them what we have is what they are looking for."
One they persuaded is Luck, who likes it enough at Stanford that he decided quickly after last season to return for a junior year, even though he might have been the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft -- before it was known that Harbaugh was leaving for the 49ers.
Luck, who has said this will be his last college season, gives the Cardinal probably the best quarterback in the nation, one who has drawn raves from scouts for his ability to audible at the line of scrimmage.
The Cardinal suffered some significant losses. Just two offensive linemen return, and only five offensive starters overall, as well as six starting defenders.
One returning offensive lineman is junior guard David DeCastro, a Bellevue High grad whom some regard as being as good as any guard in the country.
Shaw can't say enough about DeCastro, calling him one of the leaders of the Cardinal.
"He sets the tone for who we are as a football team," Shaw said. "He is athletic, he is tough, he is physical. One of the things David and I talked about when I first got the job was, I said, 'I need you to step up as a leader. I don't need you to be vocal, I need you to set standards.'
"I told him 'when a guy messes up, I'll be all over him. But you need to just go by and say two words to him -- that's the kind of respect you have. When you say something to him it will stay with him because half the guys on the team are afraid of you, anyway.' "
Joining DeCastro up front as a returning starter is left tackle Jonathan Martin, a first-team All-Pac-10 pick last year. Also back is tailback Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 1,137 yards last season.
The top four tacklers also return, including safety Delano Howell, an All-America candidate and the younger brother of former Huskies standout Dan Howell.
As for those who think the Cardinal will inevitably fall back after a season of historic highs in 2010, Shaw doesn't agree as readily.
"Our goal is consistency," he said. "We like high expectations. ... Our goals are postseason goals and earning the right to be in that Pac-12 championship game. Beyond that is all fine and dandy. But it's earning that postseason position that we are about."
Cardinal at a glance
Last year: 12-1 (8-1, second in Pac-10).
Coach: David Shaw (first year).
Leading lights: QB Andrew Luck, OT Jonathan Martin, OG David DeCastro, LB Shayne Skov, S Delano Howell.
Worth knowing: Stanford's No. 4 final ranking last year was its highest other than a No. 2 slotting in 1940, and just the sixth Top-10 finish.
The schedule: Cardinal's slate isn't that hard, with seven home games, five in Pac-12 play, including a potential North Division showdown with Oregon on Nov. 12. That's the first of three straight home games to end the season.