safety Bo McNally
is in a happy place now. He's
married. His first son, Hyo, was born last month. His boss at Palo
Alto-based T3 Advisors, an innovative commercial real estate firm,
is fellow Cardinal football alumnus David Bergeron
. His office shuts
down to host an early tailgate whenever game day happens to arrive on
a Friday, as it did for last season's Pac-12 championship contest.
Don't underestimate the value that such a perk holds for McNally.
He's still ferociously passionate about Stanford football, all the
way to the point that he imagines how he'd fit in on the roster of
the 2013 squad.
"If I was on the team right now, I'd be buried on the depth chart,"
As one watches McNally devour a lunch salad and talk football at
Palo Alto's Old Pro, it's actually difficult to believe that he's not
on Stanford's team anymore. It's even harder to fathom that he's
over three years removed from his playing career. Because when the
time comes to discuss the current state of Cardinal football,
there's a fire in his eyes that makes it seem as if he recorded
another game-sealing interception just this past Saturday. McNally's
days in uniform ended in 2009, but there are Stanford losses beyond
that point that "haunt" him almost as if he still were a player. In
short, he's invested.
It's easy to understand this attachment once one considers his role
in the Farm Boys' remarkable transformation to their current
dominant state. Bo McNally played an instrumental role throughout
the most critical years of the program's renaissance. In Stanford
lore, he'll forever be remembered as the first "closer" of the
current Golden Age, the man whose clutch plays finally allowed the
Cardinal to drive the nail in the coffin and finish a game after
several years of failure in that regard. Two epic milestones clearly
marked this stunning team transformation, and McNally delivered a
symbolic dagger at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in both of
McNally arrived in 2005,
just in time to see the Cardinal blow a 21-0 fourth quarter lead
, a last-minute advantage against Notre Dame
, and 17-0
control in an infamous loss to UC Davis that season.
"Stanford used to be notorious for building up leads and losing
them," he said.
Fast forward less than 10 years, and this inability to close is
seemingly decades behind in Stanford's rear view mirror. The
Cardinal's 2012 Rose Bowl run, in fact, featured five consecutive
wins over top 25 teams, four decided in the
final five minutes or overtime. Stanford, after undergoing a drastic
internal transformation, has learned to focus and finish. And former
No. 22 knows precisely how this has happened.
The Transformation: Attention to Detail
"It's night and day," McNally said. "We worked hard before Jim
Harbaugh came. I'd do whatever was on the card, be tired, go home,
and feel good about myself. But once [strength and conditioning
coach] Shannon Turley got there, there was this whole new attitude.
He brought this holistic approach to the training program."
Upon his arrival in 2006, Turley implemented changes that many
veterans of the time initially dismissed as mundane. He would
require players to memorize one-to-two sentence "performance, process,
outcome goals" and recite them in front of the entire team. The
process would continue until every selected player perfectly
repeated the day's phrase. Just one failure would force the team to
trot back inside to rememorize the day's goal before an arduous
workout in which just one misstep could necessitate a team-wide
"Early on, it just pissed guys off," McNally said. "What the
hell are you doing? This is a waste of time. This has nothing to do
with playing football."
In the first year of the new regime, McNally estimates that only
about a quarter of Stanford's players truly bought into the new
system, which openly encouraged team members to dedicate more time
in the weight room after the mandatory allotment finished. But as
time passed, a larger chunk of the team committed itself not only to
extra workouts that paid an obsessive attention to detail, but also
to the staff's enthusiasm for seemingly pedestrian activities.
"You had the upperclassmen who were all good guys and hard workers,
but they just didn't get it. They had been around a different
program too long," McNally explains. "They may have bought in 90
percent, but there was this 10 percent in the back of their heads
that was like, 'This is stupid.'"
The Transformation: Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind
Harbaugh himself rarely displayed a moment in which he was lacking
energy. During the first team meeting after his 2006 hiring,
Stanford's new general announced his plans to turn the Cardinal,
then fresh off a miserable 1-11 season, into a program that would
win a national championship. Shortly thereafter, Harbaugh referenced
conference power USC
and their head coach Pete Carroll
in a brash
statement that concluded with these words: "We bow to man. We bow to
no program here at Stanford University."
"What Harbaugh brought in that was significantly lacking was an
almost irrational confidence," McNally explains. "Even if he didn't
truly believe it, we started to because of the perception he put up:
blind, irrational, arrogant confidence. And that's what we needed at
the time. We had zero confidence before. We had zero swagger
Combine what's now commonly known as Harbaugh's "enthusiasm unknown
to mankind" and Turley's maniacal attention to detail, and Stanford
had at least the formula in place to finally seal games by the start
of 2007. The manpower was still lacking; in those early days, the
undermanned team would still have to play a game of "fake it until
you make it" to find success. Still, the Cardinal had enough to finish
the job on October 6 in their all-time 24-23 stunner of USC at the
Coliseum. McNally provided the watershed sealing moment: He
intercepted John David Booty's pass with under a minute left, and
Stanford had at least begun to exorcise the demons of leads that had
slipped away in the past.
"Was there still some doubt then?" McNally asked. "Yeah. But for
the first time, we'd shifted our mindset enough. And that's what it
did: It gave us a chance. That opportunity had to come first. And
that first USC win made us all say, 'Wow, maybe Harbaugh is
Stay tuned for the second part of The Bootleg's series with
former Stanford safety Bo McNally, looking as the Cardinal progressed from their 2007
upset of USC to their November 2009 return to the
Coliseum. We hope to analyze the 2013 Stanford team's
finishing ability by examining the roots that were planted over a
half decade ago.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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The ability to focus and finish was a trademark of Stanford's 2012 Rose Bowl team, and the Cardinal's 2013 prospects will again rely heavily on that ability. Not long ago, though, closing games was a major Stanford weakness. What changed? The first piece of our exclusive multi-part interview with former Cardinal safety Bo McNally presents answers and memories.