Stanford's Paradigm Shift
Nov. 11, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. - A cultural shift is taking place at Stanford, and it looks a lot like Pat Maynor.
Economics major, National Honor Society, internship at a venture capital firm. In some ways, Maynor is typical Stanford stock.
But on the football field, he thankfully is not. Maynor's hit-first, ask-questions-later style is breaking the Stanford football paradigm.
In the most inelegant sense of the word, the fifth-year weakside linebacker is a fighter, in a program that has had precious few over the years.
Maynor doesn't wait, he pounces. He doesn't react, he attacks. He doesn't think, he acts.
'Teams aren't used to this from Stanford,' Maynor said. 'It's a big academic school. You throw that first punch and they're, like, 'Whoa, wait a minute. These guys are for real.'
'That's the way we like it. We like to go in as the underdog and physically dominate a team. And that's what we're trying to do every game: physically dominate.'
Physically dominate? Stanford? The land of slide rules, Nobel Prize winners and linear accelerators?
If it sounds odd now, consider the conditions when Maynor arrived from William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., when physical domination at Stanford was exclusive to the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Maynor grew up with some grit. His father, Mark, was a three-year letterman as a Florida linebacker in the mid-1970s. They lived on a dirt road amid the pines near Jupiter, Fla. An alligator or two might slink nearby, though they never caused Pat any trouble as he walked a mile to the school bus each day.
A Stanford degree and the charisma of defensive coordinator Tom Williams lured Maynor west in 2004. But Williams was gone within a year, while Maynor spent a disheartening freshman season haunted by homesickness and a shoulder injury that kept him from playing.
Over the next five years, coaches marched in and out, each bringing in a new system to learn and master. Maynor has played under three head coaches and five defensive coordinators at Stanford.
It got to the point where Stanford's own players had lost faith, suffering weekly blowouts during a 1-11 season in 2006.
'We didn't have confidence going into those games,' said Maynor, a first-year starter that season. 'We didn't go into games thinking we were going to win.'
'He wanted us to play a hit-in-the-mouth defense,' Maynor said, with the emphasis on hitting them first.
But paradigm shifts don't come easily.
'It takes a while to get that mentality, especially when you haven't been known to be a very physical team,' Maynor said. 'You don't just wake up one day and automatically be a physical team.'
But the players were willing to try, and the transformation inched along as players were taught to slug it out each day in practice to the point where a game was merely an extension of the daily intensity.
Under new linebackers coach Andy Buh, Maynor in 2007 discovered quickly that he had been surviving on effort and willpower, but little else. His technique was horrible.
Buh spent hours with Maynor, perfecting his footwork, hand positions and ability to read plays. When Ron Lynn joined the promoted Buh as co-defensive coordinator this season, he took some of the edge off the gambling nature of last year's defense, but stressed relentless effort to the ball, suiting Maynor's style perfectly.
Finally, the evolution was launched in full with Harbaugh's bold pronouncement that 'we bow to no program here at Stanford University.'
The latter, especially, hit home with Maynor.
'It actually made us play harder,' Maynor said. 'If our coach is going to go out in public and have our backs like that after a bad season, that meant a lot to me. We couldn't let him down.'
Indeed, the Cardinal didn't, shocking the nation on Oct. 6, 2007, when the 41-point underdog beat USC, 24-23, exhibiting the belief, confidence and fearlessness that had been absent for so long.
Stanford just needed the personnel to pull it all together, and got it with the likes of Maynor and fellow aggressor Clinton Snyder, at strongside linebacker.
The team's new aggressive nature has not been without controversy, and Maynor has been in the center of it.
A late hit on Oregon State quarterback Lyle Moevao in the season opener branded him a 'dirty player,' in the media and enraged Beaver fans, who called for a Maynor suspension on Internet message boards.
The reputation was confirmed in the eyes of many with another late hit, this one on UCLA's Kevin Craft, moments after the quarterback flipped a touchdown pass in the Cardinal's 23-20 loss on Oct. 18.
'When you're out there on the field, you have to make split decisions,' Maynor said. 'I'm doing everything I can to go hit him, and he did a little shuffle pass. I don't know if I wasn't expecting it, but it was a dumb play. I wish I could take that one back.
'Against Oregon State, you watch the film and the quarterback's carrying out the bootleg. If he has that ball and I hit him, it's not a personal foul. And I couldn't tell on the play whether he had the ball or not because he's carrying out the fake.
'No one wants to be labeled a dirty player. No one wants that reputation. But I think a lot of it comes with the territory of being an aggressive player.'
On the whole, Harbaugh will take the errors in judgment.
'He's just a tough, tough guy,' Harbaugh said. 'You want to be in a foxhole with Pat Maynor.'
His teammates could say the same thing. Last year, Maynor set a school-record with 16.5 tackles for loss. This season, he's leading the team in tackles (59), tackles for loss (7.5), is tied for the lead in sacks (four), and is second in pass breakups (four).
Maynor's approach is simple: 'If I see the ball, I want to be the first to get there. I want to be the guy to get the tackle. I come with that mindset every play.'
The question is whether the new Stanford swagger is dependent on players like Maynor or more permanent. Maynor thinks it can be sustained.
'The coaches expect that now,' he said. 'And the kids they're recruiting are tough and physical. When a freshman comes in, they know that's how we play football. We're going to be a physical team.'
Physical domination? Thanks largely to Maynor, the unthinkable has become reality.
- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics Media Relations