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Sanford Aims To Bring New 'Energy' To Buffaloes

Oct 4, 2022
Mike Sanford at Tuesday's CU press conference.

BOULDER — New Colorado football coach Mike Sanford certainly doesn't have a blueprint for operating as an interim coach for seven games.

Fact is, one doesn't exist. The Buffaloes' situation is a rarity. Coaching changes usually happen near the end of a season — not with more than half the schedule remaining.

But Sanford, named CU's interim boss after Sunday's dismissal of Karl Dorrell, is approaching the scenario with a sense of urgency and an air of renewed energy, an atmosphere he believes CU's players will embrace.

"The theme of the day was energy," Sanford said after his first practice as CU's head coach. "Just going out and finding a whole bunch of fun in the game of football, and I think the players responded tremendously well … Energy at practice doesn't guarantee you anything, but it gives you a chance."

At this point, a chance is all CU's players want — especially those who have been in the program for a few years.

For a handful of Buffs, Sanford will be the fifth head coach (counting interim appointees) they have experienced in their time in Boulder. 

As transfer offensive lineman Tommy Brown said Tuesday, "It's new to me, but for some of my teammates, this is 'same old, same old.'"

Now, it is Sanford's job to try to create something resembling stability over the last seven games of the season — and maybe pick up a few wins along the way.

Sunday, Sanford named tight ends coach Clay Patterson as his offensive coordinator and defensive line coach Gerald Chatman his defensive coordinator. He has also promoted quality control specialist Jeff Smart — a former CU standout linebacker — to an on-field coach (position to be determined) and quality control specialist Chris Reinert to special teams coach. Also, grad assistant Nate Dodson will begin working with quarterbacks.

But more than anything, Sanford is clearly trying to inject life into a team that has suffered five straight lopsided losses. 

His plan started with individual meetings with every player on the roster on Monday, a process that started at 6:45 a.m. and didn't wrap up until after 5 p.m.

"Change is hard," Sanford said. " … (But) I think all of them realized that every single one of us needs to bring more energy to practice. Every single one of us needs to bring more accountability, and I think they really responded today with some of their own desires for us moving forward."

The change comes during a bye week. Colorado doesn't play again until Oct. 15, when the Buffs play host to Cal in a noon game at Folsom Field (Pac-12 Networks).

One change Sanford did make was moving Tuesday's practice to Franklin Field, just outside the UCHealth Champions Center, instead of the lower practice fields. Sanford brought in speakers to pipe in crowd noise and music, aiming to create what he called "chaos."

"We had a chance to go line up and play in a less-controlled environment," Sanford said. "I think that's where the execution gap has existed for us. It's been executing well in a controlled environment in practice, and then going into a quote unquote, chaotic, noise-driven environment on a game day, and then all of a sudden the execution, the details start to fall off. So we're doing everything in our power to recreate those types of situations. I was really pleased with the first day but it's just the first day on a long journey."

With seven games to play, Sanford's role could be seen as at least a minor "audition" for the permanent job.

But he insisted that becoming a candidate for the job is the farthest thing from his mind.

Most important, he said, is giving CU's players a chance to win.

For young players, picking up some victories down the stretch would be a boost of confidence that would be valuable in the future.

For the older players, it would give them a sense of pride in leaving a solid legacy in the wake of so much adversity.

"It's all about the players, all about these young men in front of me," Sanford said emphatically. "If I make it about something that it's not today, then you start worrying about the wrong things. The most important thing is getting these players to believe, getting these players to realize they are capable of doing things that they haven't done yet this season. And that's my job."

Sanford and his staff must also continue the recruiting process. That will include staying in contact with players who have already committed to the program, as well as continuing the evaluation process.

But one thing Sanford said he will avoid is making change simply for the sake of change. 

"Players are resilient, but I don't think we need to make any massive wholesale changes at this point, other than just putting people in the right chairs," he said. "Schematically, we've gone back to the drawing board on both sides of the ball … We did a self-scout offensively and defensively and really saw the things that we're good at. And then we saw the problems and the problems are  either going to be eliminated schematically from what we do or we're going to make the tweaks that we need to make."

Some of those schematic changes will no doubt come on defense, where Colorado has struggled all season.

"There's going to be new language, in particular instances, particularly on the defense side of the ball — new leadership, new fits in the run game," Sanford said. "We saw some of the benefits of that today, guys swarming to the ball. If we can play fast I think we're gonna be effective on defense because we have the athletes, we have players. The belief is a huge piece of it. And I think they started to feel that belief today on that side of the football."

NEW O-COORDINATOR: Patterson brings with him a long background in producing high-powered offenses.

Patterson served as the tight ends coach at Minnesota for the three seasons prior to coming to Colorado. But before that, he served two years as the head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. In two years there, his teams were 14-8, and he was his conference's coach of the year in 2017, when A&M averaged 524.5 yards and 36.2 points per game.

He also served as an offensive coordinator at Trinity Valley CC, where his team in 2015 averaged a record-breaking 656 yards per game.

"I've never been part of an offense that we didn't talk about three things — effort, attitude and toughness," Patterson said. "We have to empower kids to do that with the situation we're in. We have to have all our kids step up and make plays … We're going to run our offense. It's our offense. It's not you know what I did back then with the high-tempo 98 plays a game. We're going to play complementary football, which allows us to help our defense and to also put ourselves in situations to score points."

But more important than the scheme, Patterson said, is the attitude of the players.

"What's crazy about this game is that football sometimes becomes not fun," he said. "And we want these kids to have fun playing football again. These guys have been through a lot of stuff … Our job as coaches is to make sure these guys have fun and enjoy this experience. And if they'll do that, and they'll find some joy in playing football again, then I think that you'll see good results from them."

BUFFS BITS: CU announced that punter Ashton Logan was dismissed from the team last week because of a violation of team rules … Chatman said the defense had three takeaways and a forced fumble in Tuesday's practice … 

OL Brown said he could feel a difference in Tuesday's practice.

"I felt like there was a new energy," Brown said. "I felt like everyone's intensity increased. I think attention to detail was a major part of practice today.  I think everyone was just flying around, focusing on having fun, and playing fast while doing it." … 

Sanford will be back on the CU sidelines now instead of his normal position in the coaching booth as offensive coordinator. Sanford said the last time he was on the sidelines on a full-time basis was the 2018 season, his final year as Western Kentucky's head coach.