Mike Sanford, one of college football’s brightest offensive minds, has been named Utah State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, it was announced Monday by Aggie head football coach Gary Andersen.
Sanford brings 14 years of college coaching experience with him to Utah State, including two years as a head coach and three more seasons as an offensive coordinator. In all, Sanford has coached in five New Year’s bowl games and has been a part of three conference championship teams.
Most recently, Sanford spent two seasons (2017-18) as the head coach at Western Kentucky, leading the Hilltoppers to a 9-16 overall mark and 6-10 conference record, highlighted by a berth in the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl in his first season, one of just five rookie head coaches to take his team to a bowl game in his first season. A pair of players were drafted from that squad as linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe went in the fourth round to the Chicago Bears and quarterback Mike White was taken in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys. A third player, tight end Deon Yelder, received immediate interest as a free agent and is currently with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Western Kentucky had several program firsts under Sanford, including posting its first-ever win at Louisiana Tech and a program-best five interceptions against UTEP during the 2018 season.
In 2018, the Hilltoppers had the 15th-youngest roster in the nation with 65 true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores and just 10 seniors, which was the third-fewest in the nation. Furthermore, WKU was the only team in the nation in 2018 without a senior offensive lineman. In 2017, 24 players earned their first career start as Hilltoppers on offense or defense, the fourth-most nationally, and 11 true freshmen saw game action.
Overall, Western Kentucky had 28 Conference USA honorees during Sanford’s two years as head coach. Additionally, WKU increased their community service commitment by more than 500 percent, while 75 Hilltoppers saw their grade point average rise during Sanford’s first year as head coach and 39 players posted a 3.0 semester GPA or better. Furthermore, WKU senior Julien Lewis was named a 2018 Conference USA Fall Spirit of Service Award winner and sophomore Tyler Witt was named to the Conference USA 11-member All-Academic Team for the second-straight year in 2018.
A former quarterback at Boise State (2000-04), Sanford holds coaching experience from three Fiesta Bowls and two Rose Bowls, along with playing experience in the Humanitarian, Fort Worth and Liberty Bowls.
Prior to his head coaching stint at Western Kentucky, Sanford spent the previous two seasons as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame, where he tutored Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer to stellar performances while in South Bend.
Kizer had near-record breaking marks in Notre Dame single-game history for rushing yards by a quarterback (second), touchdown passes (tied for second) and total offense (seventh), to go along with the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (10) in 2015. Kizer finished his career at Notre Dame with the best per-game total offense average in school history (272.2), the highest points responsible for per-game mark (15.6) and the second-best passing efficiency rating (147.7).
The Fighting Irish averaged 466.4 yards of total offense per game in 2015, the third-most in program history and the most since 2005, to go along with a near-record 34.2 points per game that season — three points shy of the program record. The year was capped by Sanford’s fifth-consecutive appearance in a New Year’s Six or BCS Bowl Game, the 2016 BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
Prior to Notre Dame, Sanford spent one season at his alma mater, Boise State, in 2014, where he guided a Broncos offense that was one of just five FBS schools to rank among the top-30 nationally in all four major offensive statistical categories (scoring, total offense, passing offense and rushing offense).
The Broncos went 12-2 that year, won the Mountain West championship and defeated Pac-12 South champion Arizona in the Vizio Fiesta Bowl. Quarterback Grant Hedrick 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 even more notable. In Sanford’s offense, Ajayi led the FBS in scoring with 13.7 points per game and became the only player in FBS history to record 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season. The current Philadelphia Eagle and 2017 Pro Bowler set Boise State single-season records for rushing yards (1,823), rushing touchdowns (28), all-purpose yards (2,358) and carries (347) under Sanford.
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 top-rated class in the Mountain West during his season at Boise State, and back-to-back top 20 national recruiting classes, including a top-five class in 2012, each of his final two seasons at Stanford while serving as the program’s recruiting coordinator. Twenty-three members of the Cardinal’s 2012 and 2013 signing classes were rated in the top 25 nationally at their respective positions, while 22 were rated at least four stars, including six five-star selections.
During his second stop in Palo Alto, Sanford helped the Cardinal capture Pac-12 Championships and Rose Bowl appearances in both 2012 and 2013, as well as a Fiesta Bowl trip to cap the 2011 season. As the running backs coach from 2011-12, Sanford was instrumental in the development of Doak Walker Award and 2013 Rose Bowl offensive MVP Stepfan Taylor, Stanford’s all-time career leading rusher (4,300). Taylor set the Cardinal program record for total touchdowns (45) and is second all-time in career rushing touchdowns (40). Sanford then moved into the quarterbacks room in 2013, where he mentored then-sophomore Kevin Hogan, a 2016 NFL Draft fifth-round selection.
Sanford spent the 2010 season at Western Kentucky as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach after one year at Yale – his first full-time coaching position – where he coached the tight ends, fullbacks and served as recruiting coordinator in 2009. Sanford spent two years on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford as an offensive assistant from 2007-08 and enjoyed a two-year run as a graduate assistant at UNLV under his father, Mike Sr., then the head coach of the Rebels.
A father of three, Peyton, Gunnar and Griffin, Sanford is married to the former Anne-Marie Mitchell. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Boise State in 2005.