Recruiting Area: California
Career Record (9th season): 30-66
Record at Indiana State (4th season): 14-23
Mike Sanford is in his fourth season as head coach of the Indiana State Football program.
Sanford and the Sycamores are coming off a very tough 5-6 season in 2015 that was decimated by injuries and close losses. ISU was on the outside looking in on the FCS Playoffs, but might not have been if not for devastating close losses to eventual national champions North Dakota State (28-14 at home) and at #3 Illinois State. The Sycamores were also without all-time greats Connor Underwood and Mark Sewall for most of the season (among many other injuries). However, the superb play of sophomore quarterback Matt Adam and receivers Gary Owens and Robert Tonyan Jr. kept the Sycamores in the playoff hunt until the very end. Adam finished the season with the third-best offensive year in Indiana State history at 2,592 yards of total offense -- second in the MVFC only to national leader Mark Iannotti of Southern Illinois.
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 for his efforts.
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 FBS 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 up his career as the school record holder in 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 a 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 honors from the Associated Press. He finished the season with 94 total tackles, which includes new school records for quarterback sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (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.
In Sanford's first year at Indiana State, the Sycamores had five players named to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference Team, including Connor Underwood who earned first team honors. On the offensive line, FN Lutz III was named to the second team while Russell Jones, Tanner Riley and Mark Sewall were each tabbed as honorable mention selections. Underwood tied a school record with four quarterback sacks at Tennessee Tech and also posted six tackles for a loss.
While many newcomers saw significant action in Sanford's first season with the Sycamores, linebacker Jameer Thurman shined the brightest. Thurman was named to the MVFC All-Newcomer Team, finished second in the MVFC Freshman Of The Year balloting and also placed third in MVFC Newcomer Of The Year voting. Thurman also garnered praise nationally as he was named a Second-Team Freshman All-American. He led all MVFC freshmen in tackles, tackles for a loss and quarterback sacks.
LeMonte Booker was also named to the MVFC All-Newcomer Team for his role as the team's return specialist after he recorded a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against four-time national champion and No. 1 ranked North Dakota State.
With an emphasis on work off the field as well, Lutz III, Riley and Sewall were each named to the MVFC All-Academic Team.
Sanford's hiring came with great excitement from the Terre Haute community and Sycamore fanbase when he was introduced as head football coach.
"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."
Sanford is considered one of the nation's top offensive minds and comes to Indiana State from Utah State, where he spent the 2012 season as the assistant head coach, running backs and tight ends coach on Gary Andersen's staff.
"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 were 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 in 2012. The Aggies defeated Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl played in Boise, Idaho on Sat., Dec. 15 by the score of 45-13.
Utah State had one of its best overall seasons in school history in 2012 with an 11-2 record, setting a single-season school record for victories, including a school-record six at home. USU 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), including 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, highlighted by 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 honors as well. 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 Oregon State 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.
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/game).
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," said Mike Hamrick, the Director of Athletics at Marshall (and Athletic Director at UNLV at the time of his hiring in Las Vegas). "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."
Sanford spent the 2003 and 2004 seasons at Utah as offensive coordinator under head coach Urban Meyer and was part of the Utes' 21-2 overall and 13-1 Mountain West two-year stretch, including a 12-0 overall and 7-0 league mark and victory in the 2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh (35-7).
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 was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Stanford in 2002, returning to the college ranks after three seasons in the NFL as wide receivers coach with the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001.
“Mike Sanford is a tremendous football coach, but just as important he is great with young people," said current Nebraska head coach Mike Riley. "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.
Sanford began his coaching career in 1977 as a graduate assistant at Southern California before earning his bachelor's degree from USC in 1978. Later that year, Sanford started his first full-time coaching position as the defensive coordinator at San Diego City College.
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 a Boise State quarterback from 2001-04. Mike and Melinda Sanford also have five grandchildren.