STANFORD -- During a daylong media event in Los Angeles this summer, David Shaw and Mark Helfrich unexpectedly arrived for a radio interview at the same time.

Hoping to avoid an awkward moment, the host cracked a joked: Why don't the rival coaches appear on the show together?

Shaw and Helfrich looked at each other -- and agreed.

"We gave a joint interview," Shaw recalled with a smile, "and the guy was blown away."

They won't be dining together ahead of Thursday's showdown at Stanford Stadium, but Shaw and Helfrich could very well chat over breakfast somewhere next summer.

Time spent together during the offseason, complementary personalities and similar career arcs have forged a friendship between the man who followed Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and the man who followed Chip Kelly at Oregon.

"We've talked about that -- it's a unique situation to be the 'Next guy,'" Helfrich said.

"As much as everybody would hate to hear it," Shaw said, "we actually get along very well."

Shaw, 41, and Helfrich, 40, aren't the only Pac-12 football coaches who spend time together during the league's spring meetings and summer media events. Many are close in age, lifers in the business and the sons of coaches who have known each other, or each other's fathers, for years.

"There are different personality types, but we all want what's best for the Pac-12," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "They're all good guys."

Shaw said he "hit it off immediately" with Cal's Sonny Dykes and doesn't foresee any lasting issues with Sarkisian, who last month accused Stanford of faking injuries.


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His off-the-field relationship with Helfrich stands as perhaps the most fascinating because of the on-field rivalry -- the Cardinal and Ducks have ruled the conference for four years -- and their parallel career paths.

Shaw first became aware of Helfrich on a personal level through Scott Frost, a former Stanford teammate who has coached with Helfrich at Oregon for the past 41/2 years. (Frost declined to be interviewed for this story.)

"Scott's a great judge of character, and he fell in love with (Helfrich)," Shaw said.

Both Shaw and Helfrich are approachable, thoughtful and self-deprecating.

Both replaced edgy, incredibly successful coaches who jumped to the NFL -- Helfrich took over for Kelly last winter -- and both took the same approach to the promotion:

Neither Shaw nor Helfrich has spent a nanosecond trying to be the man he replaced.

"When they're in front of the camera, they're being 100 percent authentic," said Stanford assistant Mike Sanford, who played quarterback for Boise State when Helfrich was the position coach.

"They lead as themselves, not as their predecessors."

Neither Shaw nor Helfrich has actively sought to shape the team in his image. In both cases, the process has occurred organically.

Helfrich, who grew up in Coos Bay, Ore., likes to say that he "doesn't own a stamp," but his players would beg to differ. He has been known to crack jokes between reps in practice and allows for self-expression in team meetings.

"He gets it," said Ducks tailback Byron Marshall, who attended Valley Christian High in San Jose. "He's easy to talk to and fun to be around, and you can see it on the field. We're always having fun."

Shaw keeps the mood business-light, obsesses over the process and relates well to his players on the field and off. As with Helfrich, he has a line the players dare not cross. It just takes time to get there, and everyone knows it exists.

"With both of them, their public image and leadership style is same as they are as people," Sanford said. "I have a ton of respect for way they've handled themselves with such big shoes to fill."

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

Thursday's game
Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) at Stanford (7-1, 5-1), 6 p.m. ESPN