David Shaw made one of the most universally-heralded hires of the offseason when he convinced legendary defensive backs coach Duane Akina to join the Stanford program as a replacement for Derek Mason. Akina, who has spent the majority of his coaching career at the University of Arizona and Texas, was the driving force behind turning Texas into "DBU". Akina produced 13 NFL Draft picks and 14 All-Big-12 selections during his time in Austin.
On Monday, Akina met with several members of the Bay Area media to discuss joining the Stanford program.
What lured you here? Did you think it was time for a change or did the opportunity excite you?
Duane Akina: I was actually really thinking about sitting out. I've worked with a couple of guys on the staff. It was really interesting when I first talked to them just philosophically some of the things they were talking about, the people, because this game is still about the people that you're lining up with. I've admired Stanford from afar over the years. I've had great respect for the staff for what they've done, the coaching, the players, how they've played. The last couple of years we've played Pac-12 players… It was always the first film I'd pull out to watch, Stanford vs. Oregon, Stanford vs. Oregon State. And I just really liked how they played and when I had a chance to come down here and meet with the coaches, meet Coach Shaw, we'd never met, but once again I had heard so many great things about him. I just felt like this was something that was good. It's closer to Hawaii. That's where I'm from, and it's a great program. Getting back West was appealing to me and this is a great football conference. When I was here (at the University of Arizona) in 1987 I just go through those quarterbacks: (Troy) Aikman was at UCLA and Rodney Peete was at SC and (Chris) Chandler was at Washington and (Timm) Rosenbach was at Washington State and (Bill) Musgrave at Oregon and (Erik) Wilhelm at Oregon State and (Troy) Taylor at Cal. And Stanford has just been a quarterback every year (type of program). Paul Justin at Arizoan State. So obviously they made an impression on me 30 years later, but it's a great football conference that attracts great offensive personnel. That attracts great offensive coaches, which gives you a chance defensively to have to run a lot of NFL-type concepts. So it's I think exciting for the fans, it's exciting to recruit to. I think players would really enjoy playing in this conference.
And Stanford has always had such a great reputation academically. I just believe they've cracked the code. They've been able to take that competitive spirit in the classroom and they brought it to the grass. I walked the campus and it's beautiful, the weather, there's just a lot of things. That you can get such a great education and play a high level of football, for me to be a part of that is just really exciting.
You have a couple of guys who are new to the position group in Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd. What does it take in a player to make that transition after a couple of years and how do you think they're doing so far?
DA: I've been on the grass with them one day but I have had an opportunity to watch them through spring. And (through) the first seven days I've been very impressed with them. I've had a lot of success in past years with high school quarterbacks moving over, starting with Chuck Cecil at Arizona working my way all the way through to Adrian Phillips this year had a great year for me. You see the game from the other side of the fence. There's some anticipation there. (Dallas is) a big athlete that can run and I think there's some tremendous upside. Kodi has great hands. I think it's a skill now, playing the ball in the air has become a real big evaluation now for the NFL players, for myself, because the ball is in the air so much there are opportunities to make plays. And he has shown that ability. He's got loose hips and so I just think we need reps. It's not a position (where you just) add water, instant football player. It takes time to develop. And I think both of those guys have a bright future.
I know that you were at Arizona when Coach Shaw was playing at Stanford. I'm wondering if you remember coaching against him and those teams?
DA: Yeah, those were great teams. We had some great football teams at that time at the University of Arizona. Those were all really hard-fought football games. We remember all of those guys. In fact, when I was in the team room I looked up there and I saw all of the names on the wall, receivers from Kenny Margerum to Troy (Walters). I either played against them when I was at the University of Washington back in the '70's or when I was looking at many of those names we had lined up, Ed McCaffrey, there have been tremendous wide receivers that have come out of Stanford. We used to enjoy those games when I was in Tucson.
Speaking of Arizona, Pete Alamar, you also worked with him there. How instrumental was he, if he was at all, in helping develop that comfort level for you to come here?
DA: Randy Hart I've known for a long time. I got to Arizona in '87 and I think Randy got Washington in '88, right around that time. I was there for 14 years at Arizona and I had a chance to work with Pete. I've been in the room with Pete. I trust his opinion when he was talking about the people. I've known Randy. And like I said, that was kind of the start of it all, just that comfort level of being with guys. And Peter Hansen, Peter Hansen played for us at Arizona. (It's) still one of the greatest plays ever, when he blocked that field goal up at Washington. He made the travel team on that Friday and came up and had the game-winning play. There are a lot of guys that I've known. I had a chance to talk to Lance (Anderson) prior to coming in and I could just tell over the phone that there were no egos involved. We're just in this thing to go win some games and help these kids down the road become better fathers, better husbands, a better part of the community, along with winning some football games. I just sensed (that), and then it was confirmed when I came in and I sat and we had a chance to talk football a little bit and listening to philosophies. As I said, my wife was here when I left. I said, 'Oh man, these guys have made it tough on us because this sounds very appealing.' And Coach Shaw being sensitive to my family situation really spoke a lot too for this whole thing. The people is what started it and then obviously Stanford sells itself and the opportunity to be involved in an outstanding football program also was terrific.
On some of the videos that I've seen, physicality in the secondary seems to be one of the key things that you preach. I'm wondering if from afar, watching Stanford over the past couple of years and the defense improve and make headlines, I'm wondering if that's something that you've noticed about the Stanford secondary?
DA: Yeah, I think across the board, offense, defense, that mentality. And you're right, it's something that I visited today with everybody about my philosophies on that. I think when they talk about you as a football player you just want people to check all the boxes. If they just call you a cover guy, that's not what we want. We want to be a defensive back, which means if we're lining up on the tight end we can take on the fullback or guard. If we're out there on a big receiver we can line up there. If they have us in the slot with Wes Welker we can match that. We understand splits. Just check all the boxes so that when you leave here you're armed and ready. Because as I say, you're a double major. You're coming here for your academic major but you've also come here to major in defensive back play. Because you can make a living. I've seen guys make a living doing this. So my job is when they leave here they've reached their potential as a player and that means they're physical, they're tough, they're smart, they can cover, they're a good teammate, they understand the locker room and how to be a good teammate in there and deflect attention to their teammates. All of the above.