Mike Sanford is in his third season as head coach of the Indiana State Football program.
In 2014, the Sycamores had a historic season that saw them finish with an 8-6 overall record and most importantly their first trip to the NCAA FCS Playoffs since 1984 and their first postseason victory since 1983. Sanford was named the AFCA Regional Coach Of The Year.
Of Indiana State's eight victories in 2014, six were against nationally-ranked FCS opponents. The Sycamores also returned the Victory Bell to Terre Haute for the first time since 1987 when they earned a 27-20 victory in Muncie over FCS opponent Ball State on September 13. The Sycamores also earned a victory over Top 10 FCS opponent Northern Iowa and remained in the national polls a school record 10 consecutive weeks.
From 2013 to 2014, the Sycamores achieved the greatest turnaround in college football. A great deal of that success can be attributed to a Leadership 101 course which was designed and implemented by coach Sanford and his staff prior to the season.
The play of senior quarterback Mike Perish, a second-team All-MVFC performer, was a big reason for the Sycamores' success. Perish wrapped his career with the school record for pass completions (620), attempts (1,051), yards (6,696) and touchdowns (45). He also set the single-season record for pass completions, attempts, yards and total offense. His 75-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Johnson in the FCS playoffs set the new school record for touchdown passes in a season with 21.
On defense, junior linebacker Connor Underwood was named a First Team All-MVFC performer and picked up First Team All-American honors from The Sports Network as well as Second Team All-American plaudits from the Associated Press. He finished the season with 94 total tackles, including new school records for quarterback sacks with 13.5 and tackles for loss with 25. He also now owns the school record for career quarterback sacks with 28.5 and is just two away from Kyle Mitchell’s standard for tackles for a loss with 52.5. Underwood finished 22nd in the MVFC for tackles per game with 6.7, third in sacks and second in tackles for a loss. His four fumbles forced led the team as well as the league.
In total, eight different Sycamores were named all-conference, three were listed as academic all-conference and three more were named to the MVFC All-Newcomer team.
When you dive deep into the Sycamores' 8-6 overall mark, Indiana State owned a FBS victory plus five other wins over nationally ranked foes. They had the nation’s toughest strength of schedule and the five wins over ranked teams were only bettered by FCS Championship Game foes North Dakota State and Illinois State.
"It is with great anticipation that I welcome our new head football coach, Mr. Mike Sanford to the Sycamore Athletics Family," ISU A.D. Ron Prettyman said. "He is a tremendous football coach and an even better person to lead our young men in our football program. His experience, his work ethic, his commitment to education, family and faith are all qualities that will help to shape the future of our program for years to come. Please join me in welcoming Coach Sanford to Indiana State University and Terre Haute."
"I am extremely excited and passionate about becoming the new head coach of the Sycamore football program," Sanford said. "I look forward to continuing and building upon what this team accomplished over the past three seasons. I especially want to thank Indiana State University President Dan Bradley and Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman for this opportunity."
The Aggies are ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press Poll, No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll and finished No. 22 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Aggies defeated Toledo is the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl played at Boise, Idaho on Saturday, December 15 by the score of 45-13.
Utah State has had one of its best overall seasons in school history in 2012 as with an 11-2 record, set the single-season school record for victories, including a school record six at home. USU also also won six league games for just the second time in the history of the program and posted the school's first-ever perfect 6-0 conference record en route to the Western Athletic Conference Championship. The Aggies captured their first-ever road victory over a nationally-ranked team when they downed No. 19 Louisiana Tech by the score of 48-41 in overtime. Utah State appeared in the Associated Press Poll for three consecutive weeks for the first time in school history as well as the ESPN/USA Coaches Poll' and BCS standings for the first time ever.
Under Sanford's tutelage, Utah State senior running back Kerwynn Williams led the team with 1,277 rushing yards on 200 carries (106.4 ypg) with 12 touchdowns and also led the team with 43 catches for 663 yards and five TDs. Williams led the team with 24 big plays of over 20 yards (17-rushing and 7 receiving) and each had receptions of 74, 76, and 86 yards. The Aggie offense averaged 44.8 points and 502 yards of total offense per game over the final six contests of the year, including senior tight end Kellen Bartlett, who had 18 receptions for 111 yards and four touchdowns.
Williams was one of 17 Utah State players to take home All-Western Athletic Conference honors as he was named to the first team. Bartlett took home Honorable Mention All-WAC plaudits. Of Williams' seven career 100-yard rushing performances, six came in 2012 under Sanford's tutelage. The Aggies were second in the WAC and 26th nationally in total offense (460.5 ypg) as well as second in the WAC and 37th nationally in rushing offense, totaling 192.5 ypg in 2012.
“I’m really happy for Mike. He wants to be a head football coach again and it’s hard to get those jobs,” said former USU and current Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen. “I know it’s hard for him to leave Utah State University, but he feels like this is a great opportunity and he has made a decision that he thinks betters himself and his family. I’m very supportive of it and I wish him and his family all the best.”
After the Utes finished last in the Mountain West in scoring offense the season before his arrival, Sanford led Utah to the No. 3 ranking in the nation at 43.3 points per game, third in total offense (499.8 ypg), third in passing efficiency (173.41) and boasted Heisman Trophy finalist Alex Smith, who went on to become the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was second in the NCAA in passing efficiency (176.52) and fifth in total offense (298.6 ypg).
During that same season, Utah boasted one of the nation's most balanced offensive attacks, averaging 236.06 yards per game on the ground and 263.67 yards through the air.
"Mike is a fine football coach who I got to know well while we coached together at Utah," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "I wish him all the best as he takes over the Indiana State program."
Sanford came to Utah State after two seasons at Louisville, where, as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, he helped improve the Cardinals' offensive passing, from nine touchdown passes in 2009 to 20 in 2010. Louisville scored 23 or more points in nine games, including 56 in a win against Memphis. Sanford also mentored Louisville tight end Cameron Graham who earned first-team all-Big East Conference accolades after catching 40 passes for 470 yards and five touchdowns.
Prior to Louisville, Sanford was head coach at UNLV from 2005-09, where he took over a program that was coming off four consecutive losing seasons. His five seasons at UNLV tied for the third-longest coaching stint in Rebel football history. The Sanford-led Rebels made national headlines in 2008 with an upset win at No. 13 Arizona State. Under Sanford, UNLV's offense set several school records in 2008, highlighted by tying for the top red zone scoring offense percentage (.950) in the nation, matching Ohio State. UNLV's offense was also 15th in the nation in sacks allowed (1.2 pg).
During his time at UNLV, Sanford coached 29 All-Mountain West Conference honorees, including 2007 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Beau Bell, and 2006 MWC Freshman of the Year Ryan Wolfe, who went on to earn three first-team selections. In Sanford's offense, Casey Flair set a school record and tied a MWC record with 47 consecutive games with a reception.
At UNLV, Sanford replaced his college head coach, John Robinson, who retired after a legendary career that included six seasons with the Rebels.
"Mike Sanford is an outstanding football coach," Mike Hamrick, the Director of Athletics at Marshall (and Athletic Director at UNLV at the time of his hiring in Las Vegas) said. "He is a man of integrity and will run a football program that the entire Indiana State University family will be proud of. His teams at UNLV were very competitive and had many big wins over teams such as Utah, Arizona State, Iowa State, Air Force and many others. His reputation as having a brilliant offensive mind is well documented. He will give everything he has to continue the success of Indiana State football."
“Mike Sanford is a tremendous football coach, but just as important he is great with young people," Mike Riley, head coach of Oregon State said. "He will be a great leader of the program and an excellent teacher for the young men of the Indiana State team. This is a terrific hire for the University.”
Sanford's NCAA Division I coaching experience includes stints at Notre Dame, USC, Purdue, Long Beach State, Virginia Military Institute and Army.
As an assistant coach, Sanford has participated in 12 bowl games with five different programs. As the wide receivers coach at USC from 1989-96, Sanford assisted in two Pac-10 championships and two Rose Bowl victories (vs. Michigan in 1990 and Northwestern in 1996). Three of his Trojan receivers were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft: Curtis Conway in 1992, Johnnie Morton in 1993 and Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft and a consensus All-American in 1995.
As a player, Sanford was a reserve quarterback for USC's 1973 and 1974 Rose Bowl teams (the 1974 team beat Ohio State for the national championship). He played free safety in 1976 when USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and finished second in the nation.
Sanford, born April 20, 1955, and his wife Melinda have two grown children, a daughter, Lindsay, and a son, Mike, Jr., who is currently the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Sanford, Jr., was Boise State's starting quarterback from 2001-04.