The roots of a most unlikely coaching tree extending into the Bay Area are at the University of San Diego. On Monday, San Jose State tabbed six-year USD Torero head coach Ron Caragher to take over for Mike MacIntyre, who accepted the position at Colorado earlier this month. Caragher is the third product of the San Diego program to take on a head coaching position in the region. The other two, San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh and Stanford’s David Shaw, have set a high bar for the latest branch on the tree.
Caragher replaced Harbaugh at USD, after the latter took over a Stanford program in disarray. Harbaugh’s story is well known. He accepted the job at San Diego in 2003, just 10 years after the program had jumped from Division III to Division I-AA in football. USD kept the D-3 principle of not awarding scholarships.
Harbaugh was wildly successful in his three seasons there, culminating in a pair of 11-1 campaigns and Pioneer Football League championships. He turned around Stanford in short order following the disastrous Walt Harris tenure, then left the program in the capable hands of David Shaw.
Shaw won this season’s Pac-12 championship, is headed to the Rose Bowl for his second consecutive BCS appearance, and has extended Stanford’s run of BCS bowls to three. Shaw helped develop Andrew Luck into a two-time Heisman Trophy candidate, a No. 1 NFL Draft pick and Rookie of the Year contender.
Shaw’s development of Josh Johnson at San Diego foreshadowed what was to come at Stanford. Johnson was a 2005 and 2006 All-American. In ’06 under Harbaugh and Shaw, Johnson finished with 34 touchdown and 3320 yards passing, and another 11 scores and 720 yards rushing.
Caragher took over a program in great shape when Harbaugh and Shaw headed north. The Toreros have maintained their stature in the PFL, winning three league championships under Caragher’s guidance, including the last two.
Similarly, he steps into a good situation at San Jose State. The Spartans play Bowling Green in the Military Bowl with an opportunity at 11 wins. Caragher will lead the rejuvenated Spartans into the Mountain West Conference, a step up in stature for the program.
The Spartans went 10-2 with a potent offensive style. Quarterback David Fales returns in 2013, as well as receivers Noel Grigsby, Chandler Jones and Jabarri Carr. Caragher will throw the ball — San Diego quarterback Mason Milles passed 360 yards for 3106 yards, and the Toreros ranked No. 13 in the FCS in passing offense.
USD also employed an aggressive defense that yielded fewer than 20 points per game. A hallmark of the Harbaugh era at Stanford and now in the NFL is the combination of innovative offense with old school, tenacious defense.
Caragher’s San Diego program produced Mario Kurn, a 2011 Buck Buchanan Award candidate and current Oakland Raider. Kurn’s NFL turn marks a rarity among PFL programs; the non-scholarship league doesn’t often send players to the pros. And this season, without Kurn in the lineup, the Toreros were the nation’s No. 14 scoring defense.
The staff Caragher assembles at San Jose State is worth following. Former Torero defensive coordinator Jon Sumrall spent 2012 as the defensive line coach at Tulane. USD’s offensive coordinator this season was Tanner Engstrand. Both are young coaches, and would be logical assistants for Caragher at SJSU. Should he go that route, the unlikely branches from the San Diego coaching tree could further extend.