Focus & Finish: Bo McNally's Take (Part 1)

Bo McNally

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.

Former Stanford 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," he laughs.

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 them.

McNally arrived in 2005, just in time to see the Cardinal blow a 21-0 fourth quarter lead against UCLA, 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 redo.

"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 before."

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 onto something.'"

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 and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.

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