TERRE HAUTE —
The progress Indiana State’s football program has made in the last half-decade can be measured in the adjectives new coach Mike Sanford used to describe what’s now his program.
Phrases like “very good situation” and describing the state of the Sycamores’ program as “excellent” were not words bandied about the last time ISU hired a football coach.
Sanford was named ISU’s 17th head football coach on Friday. ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman announced the move on Friday afternoon. Sanford, who is currently assistant head coach at Utah State, will meet the local press and the ISU faithful during a 2 p.m. press conference on Monday.
Sanford will be on Utah State’s staff today as the Aggies face Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho. The bowl schedule formed a bit of a logistical challenge for both Prettyman and Sanford. They met last weekend in Terre Haute and the deal was finalized on Thursday and Friday.
“I made a whirlwind trip over the weekend at a time when we were in between practices [for the bowl game]. I came in and visited with Ron and saw everything. I visited with some very important people that will make our program successful and I met President Bradley,” Sanford said via phone on Friday evening.
“I think the attractiveness [of the ISU job] is that it’s in a position to make the next step. That’s up to the players and the direction of the staff I hire to take it to the next step,” he added.
Sanford defined his job as taking that “next step” and was clear in what that next step would be.
“My job is to come in to do everything I can to push and place extremely high expectations and demands to win the Missouri Valley Conference and to win a national championship,” Sanford said.
Prettyman said that there were 50 official applicants for the job. Prettyman narrowed the list to 10 finalists and then met with two coaches in person.
“When you see his bio, you’ll see quality of places he’s been and the leadership roles he’s had. He had the whole breadth of experience we were looking for. As good of a coach as he is, he’s an even better person. He’s a great family man, a man of character and integrity. He’s a gem to find for our program,” Prettyman said.
Prettyman said contract details and salary still have to be finalized.
Sanford played at USC from 1973-76. He was a quarterback on USC’s 1973 and 1974 Rose Bowl teams. He later played free safety in 1976.
Sanford has been coaching at the collegiate level since 1978. His first job was defensive coordinator at San Diego City College. He subsequently worked at Army, Virginia Military Institute, Long Beach State, Purdue (from 1987-88 on Fred Akers’ staff), USC and Notre Dame from 1979-98.
Perhaps his most notable stop in that period was at USC, his alma mater. Sanford was wide receivers coach from 1989-96. During his time there, USC was renowned for its wide receivers as Curtis Conway, Johnnie Morton and Keyshawn Johnson all starred at the collegiate level and in the NFL.
Sanford was an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001. He returned to the college ranks in 2002 at Stanford and regained renewed plaudits at Utah from 2003-04 when he served as offensive coordinator under Utes head coach Urban Meyer. The Utes were a national power during Sanford’s time there as they went 21-2 and he helped groom Alex Smith into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Sanford took over as UNLV’s head coach in 2005. The Runnin’ Rebels have always had an uphill climb on the gridiron and went 16-43 during Sanford’s tenure.
However, Sanford improved UNLV from a two-win program in Sanford’s early seasons to back-to-back 5-7 records in 2008 and 2009. The highlight of the Sanford era occurred in 2008 when the Rebels defeated No. 15 Arizona State 23-20 in Tempe, Ariz.
After he was fired in 2009 by UNLV, Sanford moved on to Louisville, but his time there ended in controversy as he was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator in the middle of the 2011 season by current Cardinals coach Charlie Strong.
Sanford took the Utah State assistant head coach position for the 2012 season.
“I’m really happy for Mike. He wants to be a head football coach again and it’s hard to get those jobs,” Utah State coach Gary Andersen said in a USU press release. “I’m very supportive of it and I wish him and his family all the best.”
Given his background, Sanford has a reputation as a coach who prefers to run a spread offense. Sanford didn’t back down from that, but also wasn’t wedded to the spread if ISU’s talent doesn’t fit it.
“What I don’t want to do is put a square peg in a round hole. I don’t want to come and say I’m a spread guy. I want to do what we can do with best of their abilities. We’ll run, but I want to be an explosive attacking uptempo type of team,” Sanford said.
Sanford complimented former coach Trent Miles on the job he did to restore ISU’s credibility as a football program.
“I was impressed with what Trent Miles did. It’s a very good situation. I’m familiar with the state in a lot of ways and I’m very excited,” Sanford said.
Once Sanford takes over on Monday, retaining recruits and hiring staff will be the biggest priority. Coaches cannot have contact with recruits until Jan. 3, so Sanford will have to do his convincing via phone.
Sanford, 57, is married to Melinda Sanford. His two children — Lindsay and Mike Jr. — are grown. Mike Sanford Jr. is the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Stanford.