Sanford Named CU Offensive Coordinator
BOULDER — Mike Sanford, a veteran of 17 seasons as a college coach in assorted positions including six as an offensive coordinator, has been named the latter at the University of Colorado, head coach Karl Dorrell announced Friday.
As with all hires of this nature, it is subject to the approval of CU's Board of Regents.
Sanford, 39, comes to Colorado from the University of Minnesota, where he was the Gophers' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the last two seasons. His vast resume includes personally coaching almost every position at one time or another on offense, in addition to experience as a recruiting coordinator and two years as a head coach (at Western Kentucky). He has coached and/or recruited numerous players who have earned All-America honors and have gone on to play professionally in the National Football League.
He is returning to his western roots; he was a star quarterback at Los Alamitos High school (south of Los Angeles), lettered at quarterback at Boise State and has previously coached at his alma mater, Utah State and Stanford. He knows the west well, and as the recruiting coordinator for the Cardinal, he coordinated the school's 2012 class that was ranked first in the Pac-12 and fifth in the nation by Rivals.com.
He has also coached at Notre Dame, Yale and UNLV, and along the way has been on the coaching staffs of some of the most respected and successful coaches in the business including P.J. Fleck, Brian Kelly, David Shaw, Jim Harbaugh, Gary Andersen, Bryan Harsin, Willie Taggart and his father, Mike Sanford, Sr.; his offensive coordinator and position coach in college was Chris Petersen. All have had prolific offenses at one time or another.
He has had significant influence in developing offensive skill position players throughout his career. Those have included quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Ian Book (Notre Dame), Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Jordan Love (Utah State), Ryan Finley and Grant Hedrick (Boise State) and Mike White and Brandon Doughty (Western Kentucky), receivers Ty Montgomery (Stanford), Will Fuller, Chase Claypool and Equanimeous St. Brown (Notre Dame), running backs Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney (Stanford), Jay Ajayi (Boise State) and tight end Durham Smythe (Notre Dame).
Among his top recruits were running back Christian McCaffrey, who he helped land at Stanford prior to moving on to Boise State for his first coordinator position; quarterbacks Ian Book Phil Jurkovec, receiver Jacon McKinley and guard Aaron Banks (Notre Dame) and quarterback Brett Rypien (Boise State). And also at Stanford, as an offensive staff assistant early in his career and with no full-time quarterback coach on the staff at the time, he was instrumental in the recruitment and early development of Andrew Luck.
"Mike's extensive experience and pedigree speaks for itself," Dorrell said. "What attracted me to him was his familiarity with the Pac-12 and this part of the country, his coaching experience, success as a coordinator and developing players over his career.
"His journey through the profession has been solid, yet he is still a fairly young coach with great coaching experience at the Power 5 level. He has worked under some of the best in the business, has great knowledge of offensive football and in our discussions, has a great vision for Colorado football."
"The Colorado football program as well as the university itself stands for everything I value," Sanford said. "My family and I could not be more excited to return to our roots out west in Pac-12 country. The University of Colorado has been a dream destination of mine since I was a kid growing up in California in the early Nineties. I have the highest level of respect for Karl Dorrell as a football coach and for the man of integrity that he is. We will work tirelessly to build a championship offense that will make the CU family proud."
Though born in Lexington, Va., he considers himself to be a native of Seal Beach, Calif., as his family moved there before he was a year old. He was recruited out of Los Alamitos High School to Boise State, where he earned his bachelor's degree in Political Science in 2005. He is married to the former Anne-Marie Mitchell and they have two sons (Gunnar, Griffin) and one daughter (Peyton). He began his coaching career in 2005 at UNLV as a graduate assistant, with his first full-time job at Yale in 2009; as a full-timer, he has coached in 159 games, 149 in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
A Closer Look at Mike Sanford
In 2021, Sanford oversaw a Minnesota offense that ran the ball the majority of the time, and despite losing three of its top running backs, still averaged 193.8 yards per game to rank 31st in the NCAA heading into the postseason. UM was 8-4, including a 30-0 win over CU in Boulder, where Sanford's offense rushed for 277 yards and possessed the ball over 22 minutes in the second half, thwarting any comeback attempt by the Buffaloes. The Gophers were also 15th nationally in fewest turnovers (11), 17th in third down conversions (45.6 percent) and 27th in red zone offense, scoring 40 times (28 touchdowns) in 45 trips.
In 2020, his in Minneapolis, UM running back Mohamed Ibrahim was named the 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year and was an Associated Press third-team All-American, setting school records in season rushing yards per game (153.7), consecutive 100-yard rushing games (8) and touchdowns in consecutive games (8) while also tying four other marks. In the COVID-19 shortened season, the Gophers were 3-4 and averaged 391.0 yards on offense, almost evenly split between rushing and passing.
In his 19 games at Minnesota, the Gophers had a 100-yard rusher in 16 of those contests.
Sanford spent the 2019 season at Utah State, where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Aggies. USU averaged 29.2 points per game in displaying a balanced offense, averaging 431 yards per game (279 passing, 152 rushing), with 40 touchdowns (22 passing, 18 rushing). Utah State was 7-6 under head coach Gary Andersen and earned a Frisco Bowl appearance opposite Kent State. His senior quarterback, Jordan Love, set numerous school records and was the 26th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft by Green Bay and is position to be the heir apparent to perennial All-Pro Aaron Rodgers.
Sanford was the head coach at Western Kentucky for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He led the Hilltoppers to a berth in the AutoNation Cure Bowl in his first season, one of just five rookie head coaches to take his team to a bowl game in 2017. Two of his players were selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, as linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe was a fourth round pick by the Chicago Bears and quarterback Mike White a fifth round selection by the Dallas Cowboys. In addition, tight end Deon Yelder signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Under Sanford, Western Kentucky had 28 Conference USA all-league players in two seasons, and off the field, WKU focused heavily on community service (improving the team's commitment by more than 500 percent) and academics, with 75 student-athletes improving their grade point averages with 39 achieving a 3.0 or higher semester GPA.
He was named head coach at WKU after a two-year stint (2015-16) as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame. He mentored quarterback DeShone Kizer, who would finish his career as the Fighting Irish all-time leader in total offense per game with 272.2 yards, as well as the highest points responsible for per game mark (15.6) and the second-best passing efficiency rating (147.7).
In 2015, when Notre Dame finished 10-3 and was ranked as high as No. 4, the Fighting Irish averaged 466.4 yards of total offense per game (third-most in program history), to go along with a near record 34.2 points per game that season. Those Notre Dame teams boasted three wide receivers who would be drafted into the NFL and remain active: Will Fuller, the 21st pick overall by Houston in the 2016 draft (now with Miami), Equanimeous St. Brown, a sixth round selection by Green Bay in 2018, and Chase Claypool, whom Pittsburgh picked in the second round in 2020.
Sanford recruited California and Texas for the Irish, and among his top recruits were quarterback Ian Book, a fourth round pick by New Orleans in the 2021 NFL draft; offensive guard Aaron Banks, who would be named a first-team All-American as a senior in 2020 and was a second round draft pick by San Francisco in 2021; and receiver Javon McKinley, who signed as a free agent with Detroit, also in 2021.
In 2014, Sanford earned his first role as an offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Boise State, when the Broncos went 12-2, won the Mountain West championship and defeated Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Also the school's quarterback coach, he tutored Grant Hedrick, who led the FBS in completion percentage (70.8), while ranking seventh in passing yards per attempt (8.91), ninth in passing efficiency (157.2), 13th in passing yardage (3,696) and 14th in total offense per game (306.3).
While Sanford's development of quarterbacks is well documented, his work with Boise State running back Jay Ajayi is just as if not even more notable. In Sanford's explosive offense, Ajayi led the FBS in scoring (13.7 points per game) and became the only player in FBS history to record 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in a single season. Ajayi set Boise State single-season records for rushing yards (1,823), rushing touchdowns (28), all-purpose yards (2,358) and carries (347). He would go on to play five seasons in the NFL after being selected by Miami in the fifth round of the draft, and would be named to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,272 yards in 2016.
In three seasons at Stanford (2011-13) working side-by-side with Shaw, the Cardinal went 34-7, winning two Pac-12 titles and earning berths in two Rose and one Fiesta bowls; the back-to-back Rose Bowl games for the '12 and '13 seasons were Stanford's first repeat appearances in the game since 1970-71. As the running backs coach from 2011-12, Sanford was instrumental in the development of Doak Walker Award semifinalist and 2013 Rose Bowl offensive MVP Stepfan Taylor. Sanford then coached the quarterbacks and receivers in 2013, where he mentored Kevin Hogan and Ty Montgomery, the latter of whom was a consensus All-American who had over 2,000 all-purpose yards that season. Hogan threw for 2,487 yards and 20 touchdowns with a 154.1 rating and would be drafted by Kansas City in the fifth round of the 2016 draft; Montgomery was a third round pick by Green Bay the year before.
Everywhere Sanford has been, great players have followed. He helped bring in top 15 recruiting classes in each of his two seasons at Notre Dame, the number one class in the Mountain West during his year at Boise State, and back-to-back top 20 classes at Stanford, including the fifth-ranked group in 2012 (and best in the Pac-12) while serving as the Cardinal recruiting coordinator. Twenty-three members of those two classes were rated in the top 25 nationally at their respective positions, with six players rated as "five stars" and 16 others with "four stars."
Sanford spent the 2010 season at Western Kentucky as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. It was just the second year for the Hilltoppers in the FBS, helping to coach WKU to its first two victories after moving up from the FCS ranks. That came after one year at Yale which was his first full-time coaching position in 2009. He coached the tight ends, fullbacks and served as recruiting coordinator in 2009.
He spent two years on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford as an offensive assistant (2007-08), which had followed two years (2005-06) as a graduate assistant at UNLV under his father, Mike, then the head coach of the Rebels. The elder Sanford coached UNLV from 2005 through 2009 and was also the head coach at Indiana State from 2013-16; an interesting CU connection exists with him as longtime Buffalo linebacker coach Brian Cabral was his defensive coordinator all four seasons in Terre Haute.
|2005-06||UNLV||Graduate Assistant/Quarterbacks & Specialists|
|2009||Yale||Recruiting Coordinator/Fullbacks & Tight Ends|
|2010||Western Kentucky||Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks|
|2012||Stanford||Recruiting Coordinator/Running Backs|
|2013||Stanford||Recruiting Coordinator/Quarterbacks & Wide Receivers|
|2014||Boise State||Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks|
|2015-16||Notre Dame||Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks|
|2017-18||Western Kentucky||Head Coach|
|2019||Utah State||Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks|