Sanford officially introduced as head coach

Mike Sanford meets with members of the press and fans after being announced as the new head football coach for Western Kentucky University on Dec. 14, 2016 at L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky.

Evan Heichelbech

Mike Sanford has officially been named the next head coach of Western Kentucky.

The 12-year coaching veteran and former WKU assistant was introduced at a press conference this afternoon in front of WKU fans and media.

“Back-to-back conference championships and consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in the program’s 97-year history have raised the bar to an all-time high level,” WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart said. “Our next head coach must aspire for greatness and be ready to take on the exciting challenges and opportunities that come with success. Mike Sanford is that person.”

Six years ago, Sanford spent one season as the quarterbacks coach at WKU under former head coach Willie Taggart.

Today, he signed a four-year, $800,000 contract making him the youngest head coach at the FBS level in his first head coaching opportunity at age 34.

“We had a chance to spend a year here in Bowling Green, and from being in this community and being around this university and having a chance to see these world-class facilities we have from a football standpoint, I realized right then and there that this is a job I would love to have at some point in time,” Sanford said.

The Lexington, Virginia, native began coaching immediately after his playing days at Boise State were over, earning a graduate assistant spot at UNLV in 2005 before moving on to coach at Stanford (two stints), Yale, WKU, Boise State and Notre Dame.

“Mike’s experiences transcend his age,” Stewart said. “I think there’s tremendous benefits [to his experience]. We all are essentially the accumulation of our experiences and I think that if you look at Mike’s experiences, they’re not only unique, but unique and successful.”

After leaving WKU at the end of the 2010 season, Sanford coached quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers at Stanford for three years before moving on to serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at his alma mater, Boise State, in 2014.

Sanford played quarterback at Boise State from 2000-2004, and was a part of three bowl teams as the Broncos compiled a 54-9 record over that span.

In his most recent two seasons, Sanford elevated a Notre Dame offense back to old heights of the historic program while serving as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The Fighting Irish averaged 466.4 yards of total offense per game and 34.2 points per game in 2015.

Now that former WKU head coach Jeff Brohm established a highly potent offensive philosophy in his three years as head coach on the Hill, Stewart has made another hire that will keep the offensive approach and momentum rolling.

“It’s a tremendous challenge, and that’s why I think when you come into an opportunity like this job, you don’t want to come into it thinking, ‘We gotta keep the status quo going,’” Sanford said. “You gotta bring your own imprint on it… that’s what really believe that I’m tasked with doing.

“The thing that I definitely have had a chance to be around are some great offensive systems,” he said. “From a philosophical standpoint, you’re gonna be impacted by those coaches and those cultures that you’ve been around, and I think the same holds true with the offensive side of the game. What I like to do with offensive football is to blend all of my experiences together.”

With a blended and “multiple” offensive approach, Sanford also brings with him to Bowling Green a shortlist of long-term goals he hopes to repeat on a yearly basis and a mantra of “relentless pursuit” he plans to instill in the program immediately.

“I have some lofty goals for this program because I believe that’s where this program can go,” Sanford said. “I believe those goals are certainly, as we sit here, they look like they are out there. They look like they are far-reaching. But those goals are fivefold.”

Sanford said he wants to graduate every player that comes through the program, serve the community “relentlessly,” win the C-USA Championship, beat a Power-5 opponent every year, and lastly, win a New Year’s Six Bowl.

“They look lofty to be quite frank,” Sanford said. “To say those five goals are attainable, those five goals are out there. But the pursuit is something that we have to line up each and every day and wake up every morning and realize that it’s about that individual day that’s right in front of you.”

Sanford said he had a chance to speak with the team and the current coaching staff earlier on Wednesday, and said he was “proud” of them and the season that they have accomplished.

The Hilltoppers will continue preparing for their Dec. 20th bowl game matchup with Memphis and interim head coach Nick Holt will lead the team and the current staff as is.

While Stewart acknowledged that the timing of the hire was less than ideal, he said he didn’t want to wait any longer to make it official out of fairness to the players and current coaching staff.

“If I were in their shoes, I would want to know,” Stewart said.

While Sanford must wait until the official end of the 2016 season until he can officially begin working as a head coach for the first time in his career, he made sure he was clear about the attitude and direction he wants to take the program.

“As it once has been said, the only way you can get what you want on a football field is old hard work,” Sanford said. “And that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna get back to work.”