TOPPER EXTRA: Q&A with coach Mike Sanford Sr.

Eastern Kentucky University defensive back Jordan Whitfield (10) garbs Western Kentucky University running back Marquez Trigg (5) during the second half of the WKU – EKU football game on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at L.T. Smith Stadium. WKU defeated EKU 31-17.

Cameron Brown

When first-year WKU head coach Mike Sanford Jr. was hired to replace Jeff Brohm in December, he made sure to hire a certain individual to his staff, creating a unique storyline in the process. Mike Sanford Sr. has been coaching college football since 1977, and has served as head coach at UNLV (2005-2009) and Indiana State (2013-2016). Now, he coaches under his son as the special teams coordinator and running backs coach for the Hilltoppers.

“What is it like coaching with your son? Have you learned anything from this experience?”

Sanford Sr.: “It’s been a great experience. I’ve been coaching 40 years, and this is my 41st year coaching. I left a head coaching position at Indiana State and I loved the opportunity to come work here. Mike called me up and said, ‘Dad, will you come help me?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ In football you learn something every day, and yes, I am learning. We have a new system, and I’m challenged in a lot of ways because even though I’ve been a running backs coach I’ve never been a special teams coordinator. So I’m learning a lot, growing a lot and I feel that you can always grow and you can always learn no matter how long you’ve been coaching.”

“You said you’re new to being a special teams coach. What are some new things you’ve learned and new things you’ve been doing as a special teams coach?”

Sanford Sr.: “There’s just so much you have to think about. When you’re a head coach you have to think about a lot of things generally but on special teams you have 11 guys on a minimum of six different teams and you have to know what all of them are doing and make sure the right people are doing the right things at the right time. You have to be thinking about all these different things, and fortunately I have a really good quality control assistant Brock Willis who is really helpful and we work very well together.”

“You’ve talked about that transition from going from a head coach to an assistant coach, and you have done that various times throughout your career. Was it easy doing it this time as well?”

Sanford Sr.: “There’s different parts of it. I think the thing is that as the head coach you have a lot more control over your schedule. When you’re an assistant, you do what you’re told to do. I think one of the things about this is putting yourself in the position of the assistant coach and being under the head coach, and it makes it interesting because he’s my son. But I have a ton of respect for him, and he does a tremendous job.”

“Last season Kylen Towner set the FBS record with an average of 40.3 kickoff return yards per game. He’s had his struggles so far this year, but do you expect a big turnaround from him soon?”

Sanford Sr.: “Well, I hope so. I wouldn’t say he’s struggled but I’d say that they [opponents] haven’t kicked him the ball very much. They’ve squib kicked, they’ve kicked touchbacks out of the end zone, and they’ve skykicked. The first game we got three surprise onside kicks and one sky kick. So when you’re getting that many weird kicks it makes it very difficult to return kicks. My expectation is that we’ll get him more return yards coming up but it’s a little out of our control because it depends on the kinds of kicks that they’re kicking.”

“You have a very good punter in Jake Collins. What does having a punter like Collins on your roster add to your team?”

Sanford Sr.: “Well first of all Jake played extremely well in the last game. He’s very valuable, and he does make a huge difference in how he can flip the field and how he can improve our advantage in regard to field position.”

Reporter Cameron Brown can be reached at 270-577-1699 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Cameron_Brown_3.