Sanford learning assistant trade from father

Zach Greenwell

Football coaches, like players, often turn to mentors for advice.

It’s just usually not their father on the other end of that discussion.

WKU quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford Jr. said he’s had no better teacher than his father, Mike Sanford Sr.

Sanford Sr. has been coaching football for more than 30 years and is now in his first season as offensive coordinator at Louisville.

“He’s been the biggest influence on me by far in coaching,” Sanford Jr. said. “Any time I’ve gone through a hard time or a situation arises, he’s the first person I go to for advice.”

Just a short drive on Interstate 65 separates the two now, but close proximity is nothing new for them.

Sanford Jr. was a graduate assistant from 2005-06 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas while Sanford Sr. was the head coach. Sanford Jr., a former quarterback at Boise State, worked primarily with the quarterbacks at UNLV.

“When he first started, he was a player learning how to coach,” Sanford Sr. said. “Now he’s a football coach. He’s an outstanding teacher.”

Sanford Jr. moved on to Stanford as an offensive assistant after UNLV. He then worked as an assistant at Yale last season.

His relationship with WKU Head Coach Willie Taggart grew while they were both coaches at Stanford, and Taggart said he came away impressed with the special bond Sanford Jr. builds with quarterbacks.

“The good thing with (him) is that he can relate to those guys,” Taggart said. “He’s played the position, and those guys like that.”

Sanford Jr. said he’s always wanted his father’s opinion, but he knows Taggart’s word is the final word. He said Sanford Sr. instilled in him early to take pride in being a good assistant.

“Coach Taggart is the head of this program, so I’m going to follow what he says,” Sanford Jr. said. “My dad’s always been a loyal assistant coach, and as an assistant he always appreciated loyalty, so he’s always preached that to me.”

Sanford Sr. said he’s enjoyed the chance to visit his son, daughter-in-law Anne-Marie and 9-month-old granddaughter Peyton.

But the two Sanfords have also been swapping football information. WKU and Louisville have three common opponents this season in Kentucky, South Florida and Arkansas State, a coincidence Sanford Jr. said has been valuable for both.

“We always talk right before games and right after games,” he said. “He’s still going through stuff in coaching where adversity strikes, so I’ve always relied on his advice. We bounce things off each other like good friends.”

Sanford Sr. said he knows his son is capable of quickly rising through the coaching ranks, so he’s realistic that the current living situation won’t continue for long. He also recognizes that he could one day face off against his son if WKU and Louisville ever schedule a series together.

But until that day comes, he said he’s content to be a proud parent and successful mentor.

“It’s been a really good interchange — the fact that we’re in the (same) state, we’re close together and that we don’t play each other,” Sanford Sr. said. “It’s been really good for both of us.”