What was the dean of admission doing on the football field?

coin toss
As honorary captain, admission dean Richard Shaw did the coin toss versus Kansas State. (Photo: Courtesy of Stanford Athletics)

Fans at the Sept. 2 Cardinal football game might have been a bit surprised to see RICHARD SHAW, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid, on the Stanford Stadium field for the pre-game coin toss.

Shaw served as honorary captain as part of a program the Cardinal football team has embraced since 2009. Embedded with the football team prior to each game, the honorary captain attends practices and meetings, views film and delivers a motivation talk prior to the competition. The honorary captain sometimes tosses the coin before the beginning of the game when the opposing captains meet on the field. It’s an important job because the coin toss decides which team will kick off and which will receive. During the game, the honorary captain watches from the Cardinal sideline and joins the team for halftime discussions.

Prior honorary captains have included such alumni athletic luminaries as JOHN ELWAY, KERRI WALSH, JULIE FOUDY and JIM PLUNKETT, as well as such well-known faculty members as CONDOLEEZZA RICE and ROBERT SIMONI. As accomplished as those honorary captains might be, none hold the distinction Shaw has: He admitted all of the current football players to Stanford. When you think about it, without Shaw, there would be no 26-13 victory over Kansas State.

“Without Dean Shaw, we don’t have the excellence of the student body today,” said MIKE EUBANKS, the associate athletic director who helps coordinate the honorary captain program, adding, “He is the ultimate gatekeeper.”

In his speech the night before the Kansas State game, Shaw talked to the players about his love of football, his firm commitment to the scholar-athlete and his pride in the way Cardinal athletes represent Stanford on the field, in the classroom and as members of a community. He earned a standing ovation.

Words of wisdom from a campus leader like Shaw are “great for our players to hear,” Eubanks said. “He delivered a lesson in leadership with a much bigger view than just that game.”

This was Shaw’s second time serving as an honorary captain, first under former coach JIM HARBAUGH and last week under current coach DAVID SHAW. During both experiences, Shaw came away impressed, especially with the players’ sizes.

“I told them they reminded me of terra cotta soldiers—they are so big,” he said. “I am a shrimp, relatively.”

Shaw, who—along with his family—is an ardent Cardinal fan, said the teamwork among players and the mutual respect among coaches and athletes is joy to experience.

“I’m a fan. I love Stanford sports. And I am really proud of our kids,” he said.

Shaw said he especially enjoyed observing the precision with which the team is run and the strategy that goes into game preparation.

“It’s really quite extraordinary and just amazing to watch,” he said. “Everyone plays an important role. There is a lot of camaraderie and a clear connection between coaches and players. Everything about what they do—from the meals they eat to the way they train to the strategy sessions they hold—is very well orchestrated. There is a tremendous amount of caring, thoughtfulness and respect. It was just a wonderful experience for me.”

Shaw’s only regret was what he perceives to be his failure during the coin toss.

“It didn’t land on the right side,” he laments. “The other side got the call.”