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Mike Sanford having fun leading CU Buffs’ offense

New offensive coordinator hopes to get group on track after tough 2021

BOULDER, CO: February 2, 2022- Mike Sanford, OC/quarterbacks coach, during the University of Colorado Boulder football coaches press conference on February 2, 2022.
(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO: February 2, 2022- Mike Sanford, OC/quarterbacks coach, during the University of Colorado Boulder football coaches press conference on February 2, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

From the time he got hired as Colorado’s offensive coordinator in December, Mike Sanford has worn a smile on his face.

Some of that is because it’s his nature, but a lot of it is the working environment he has joined in Boulder with head coach Karl Dorrell. After spending the past two seasons as the coordinator at Minnesota, Sanford is enjoying a new opportunity with the Buffaloes, who have completed 12 of 15 spring practices.

“It’s about as much fun as I’ve had coaching football in quite some time,” Sanford said after Monday’s practice. “It’s just great to work in a healthy environment with a head coach that has a clear vision, lets you coach and be who you are. I just love that he lets all of us as position coaches and coordinators lead the way that we are comfortable leading with our personalities. It starts with coach Dorrell and his vision and allowing us to do things that we see are fit for our offense.”

BOULDER, CO, March 30, 2022: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Mike Sanford, during the University of Colorado Boulder football practice on March 30, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

A former quarterback at Boise State, Sanford, 40, is the son of a coach and began his career in 2005. He has worked at Stanford, Western Kentucky and Yale as a position coach. He’s been the coordinator at Boise State (2014), Notre Dame (2015-16), Utah State (2019) and Minnesota (2020-21), as well as  head coach at Western Kentucky (2017-18).

That experience contributed to Dorrell hiring Sanford to run the Buffs’ offense and coach the quarterbacks. Dorrell also hired Clay Patterson (formerly of Minnesota) to coach tight ends, Kyle DeVan (Michigan) to coach the line and Phil McGeoghan (Los Angeles Chargers) to coach receivers. Running backs coach Darian Hagan is the only offensive coach retained from last year.

“I’m relieved to know and feel good about the level of experience in that room right now,” Dorrell said.

The room needed an overhaul after last year’s dismal performance. The Buffs ranked 129th out of 130 FBS teams in total offense, with 257.6 yards per game – the worst for a CU team since 1964. CU was 121st in scoring, at 18.8 points per game and 15.4 percent of the Buffs’ touchdowns (four of 26) came from the defense or special teams.

Sanford and the rest of the staff have enjoyed the challenge of changing those numbers.

“I’m just having a blast because this coaching staff offers a variety of experiences, a variety of systematic approaches, and we’ve had a lot of fun putting it together and doing it in a way where everybody’s got some skin in the game and it’s been really fun,” Sanford said. “It’s a really unified offensive group right now, which is exciting.”

Ultimately, Sanford and Dorrell want a balanced attack that can gain yards or strike through the air when needed. They want to use receivers, tight ends and running backs as weapons.

“All five (skill position players) in any one of our concepts can get the football and those guys saw it on day one,” Sanford said. “We’re built to spread the football around. We train our quarterbacks to go through active progressions, whether they are pure progressions where you go 1-2-3, or they might be coverage progressions, so the ball could come to you at any given time.”

Sanford said CU has “thrown the kitchen sink” at players in terms of installing the offense this spring. It’s a system designed to run plays through multiple formations and groupings, so there’s a lot to learn.

“The great thing about what we’re doing schematically is that we’re not going to pigeon-hole ourselves into being like, ‘This is all we do,’” Sanford said. “There’s going to be multiplicity and the offense is going to be malleable as the year goes on. We’re gonna study NFL teams, we’re gonna study trends and we’ll keep growing as the season goes on.

“The kids have taken to it really well. It’s a smart group of kids and they love what we’re doing. They’re confident in what we’re doing.”

So is Sanford, who is loose and enjoying his first few months on the job at CU.

“You know in a room of coaches when it’s right; when it feels right,” he said. “There’s a free-flow interchange of ideas, there’s different backgrounds, everybody’s respectful of each other. We are working together as one and it comes across with the players because the players are working together as one. … I’ve been in bad rooms, where everybody’s kind of looking, ‘That’s my idea, that’s his idea.’ Everyone’s looking to cover themselves and this is not that. We’re all in it together and it feels that way every day I go to work.

“We had a really unique group of coaches (at Stanford from 2011-13) and when we were given that opportunity to build something special, you saw it come to fruition, and that’s what I’m feeling the beginnings of in this process. We’re not there yet. We’ve got a long way to go, but I feel that that coming to fruition.”

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