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Mike Sanford eager to lead Colorado football program

Offensive coordinator named interim head coach for remainder of season

Mike Sanford, speaks to the media Sunday after being named interim head football coach for the CU Buffs, just hours after the school announced the firing of Karl Dorrell after an 0-5 start to the season. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Mike Sanford, speaks to the media Sunday after being named interim head football coach for the CU Buffs, just hours after the school announced the firing of Karl Dorrell after an 0-5 start to the season. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Sunday wasn’t the ideal day at the office for Colorado’s Mike Sanford.

Hired less than 10 months ago as the Buffaloes’ offensive coordinator, Sanford found himself in a new role – replacing the man who hired him.

On Sunday, CU athletic director Rick George made the decision to fire head football coach Karl Dorrell, while naming Sanford as the interim head coach.

“First off, it’s been a challenging day, a difficult day for many of us coaches and players in this program,” Sanford said. “Coach Dorrell is the ultimate professional, a man of integrity, a man of incredible wisdom. I’m very grateful to him.”

With CU struggling under Dorrell’s leadership, however, it was time to make a change and George tabbed Sanford to guide the Buffs (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12) through the remainder of the season.

“We have seven games remaining on our schedule, and I’m confident that we have the talent and the will to win the games down the stretch,” George said. “I have full confidence in Mike to lead this football program. Mike has had a lot of success in his coaching career and he’s an incredible motivator. I’m excited to see Mike in this role and think he will bring the team the energy that we need.”

While the Sanford-led offense has sputtered throughout the season, he said he’s excited about the opportunity to guide the entire team. Tight ends coach Clay Patterson will take over the offensive coordinator role. On defense, line coach Gerald Chatman will take over as coordinator in place of Chris Wilson, who was also fired Sunday.

“Change is difficult, change is inevitable,” Sanford said. “But change is also an opportunity. We believe that this is an opportunity to have eight games moving forward. And we’re looking at it from the perspective of each game that we play is in our mission to get an eighth game (in a bowl game). We believe that the energy that we have to galvanize this football team and bring everybody together is an opportunity for us to go compete for an eighth game.”

It’s a monumental task for the Buffs, who have seven games remaining on the regular season schedule and must win six of them to get that eighth game.

To this point, the Buffs haven’t even been close to getting a win. They’ve lost all five games by 23-plus points. The offense and defense both rank near the bottom of the country in scoring and points allowed, as well as yards and yards allowed.

George and Sanford are hoping that a change in leadership can spark the team.

“We wipe the first five games,” he said. “Literally on our schedule in the unit meeting, we put a black paper over those first five games and this is a fresh start. It’s a fresh start for players to have an opportunity that weren’t in the position they want to be in with regards to playing time to go out and play. We’re going to look for players that are the most bought in, that are most fired up and the most selfless individuals to represent this fine university.

“There is a ton of football left ahead of us. This season is not at all a wasted season. We’re going to look at this as an opportunity to develop a lot of the young talent that we’ve seen on offense, to re-energize and reinvigorate the defensive veterans that we have on this roster, and most importantly to bring a unified front across the board from staff to players. I fully expect to see a much improved product when we take the field 13 days from today.”

CU has a bye this week and will host California on Oct. 15 at Folsom Field.

Sanford had previous experience as a head coach at Western Kentucky from 2017-18. He went 9-16 with the Hilltoppers, taking them to the Cure Bowl in 2017 before a 3-9 record in 2018. He was fired after that season.

“I talked to the team today about that particular experience,” he said. “The game of football is a game of ups and downs, a game of learning and growing. I would say that that opportunity, I had not only to learn from being in this seat and from being in this chair, there’s things that I took in my notebook that I was going to certainly do differently (the next time).”

His top priority with the Buffs, he said, is to love them and lead them.

“I need to invest in these kids, I need these kids to be galvanized as a unit and understand that we’re playing with seven games in front of us,” he said. “Starting (Monday) morning, I’m gonna meet with every single one of our players, to see where they’re at, to hear them. And for me to tell them how much I care about them and how much I believe in them and how much this place believes in them.”

While Sanford hoped for a different result this season and for Dorrell to still leading the team, he’s eager to step into that role.

“I’m prepared for this opportunity because of my experiences and most of all I’m really excited about this group of players, this group of young men that is really hungry,” he said. “They’re starving for that first win. And then once you get that first win, they’re starving for that second one.”