Notre Dame OC Mike Sanford to become next head coach at Western Kentucky

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Mike Sanford is on the move.

Notre Dame's second-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach was officially hired to be the next head coach at Western Kentucky on Wednesday.

He was enthusiastic — perhaps a little too enthusiastic — about his first opportunity as a collegiate head coach.

“There are no words that quantify just how excited I am to be the head football coach here," Sanford said during his introductory press conference on Wednesday. "The only way I can really say how excited I am would be evidenced by the speeding ticket that I received yesterday as we were making the transition from Indiana to Bowling Green, Ky.

"Yes, they got me in Carmel, Ind.," he added with a wide grin.

Sanford, 34, is the youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He received a four-year contract that will pay an average of $800,000 annually, plus performance-related bonuses.

But he would not have been in this position, Sanford said, if not for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.

"I'm forever indebted to coach Kelly for really learning how to handle two different types of situations, two different types of seasons," Sanford said. "We had one of the best seasons in Notre Dame history with regards to injuries and overcoming them with a 'next man in' mentality in 2015. We obviously took our lumps this year in 2016. What I learned this year is more than I've learned any year in my coaching career, having gone through this past season. I learned a lot from coach Kelly about how to navigate those waters.

"It was a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. I can assure you that that last year in 2016 has made me a better football coach, and I'll apply those lessons going forward here at Western Kentucky."

Added Kelly in a statement: "This is an incredible opportunity for a tremendous football coach and an even better person. Mike possesses all the qualities you'd want in a head coach — clear communication, organization, commitment, passion and an astute teacher of the game.

"As a coach's kid, Mike learned these traits at a young age and developed them throughout his career, especially over his two years at Notre Dame."

Sanford previously served on Western Kentucky's staff as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2010. In 12 years coaching on the collegiate level, he has held positions at six different schools.

Sanford replaces Jeff Brohm, who compiled a 30-10 record and consecutive Conference USA championships in three seasons at Western Kentucky. Brohm agreed last week to become the head coach at Purdue.

Under Sanford's watch, Notre Dame's 2016 offense averaged 30.9 points and 417.6 yards per game. In two seasons under Sanford's tutelage, junior quarterback DeShone Kizer — who, on Monday, declared for the 2017 NFL Draft — passed for 5,809 yards (60.8 percent) and 47 touchdowns with 19 interceptions, and ran for 992 yards and 18 scores.

Though Sanford held the offensive coordinator tag at Notre Dame, associate head coach Mike Denbrock actually called the offensive plays.

In heading to Bowling Green, Ky., Sanford leaves behind two Notre Dame quarterback commits: Avery Davis (2017) and Phil Jurkovec (2018). Davis is a consensus three-star recruit, while Jurkovec is considered a consensus four-star prospect. In fact, the 6-foot-5, 202-pound Jurkovec is listed as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 10 overall recruit in the 2018 class by 247Sports and the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and No. 55 overall prospect by Rivals.

Both Davis and Jurkovec did not respond to interview requests on Wednesday.

Notre Dame currently has three scholarship quarterbacks on its roster: sophomores Brandon Wimbush and Montgomery VanGorder and freshman Ian Book.

Sanford's departure comes a day after Notre Dame chose to cut ties with tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker.

Prior to arriving at Notre Dame, Sanford spent one season at Boise State — his alma mater — in the same position. In two separate stints at Stanford, he coached the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers and also served as the team's recruiting coordinator. Sanford got his start in coaching at UNLV, where he was an offensive graduate assistant in 2005 and 2006 while his father, Mike Sanford Sr., was the team's head coach.

Sanford played quarterback at Boise State from 2000 to 2004. He attended nearby Penn High School from 1996 to 1998 while Mike Sanford Sr. served as the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame.

A 12-year coaching veteran, Sanford becomes the 20th head football coach in program history at Western Kentucky.

His contract should pay for the speeding ticket, and then some.

"Our next head coach must aspire for greatness and be ready to take on the exciting challenges and opportunities that come with success," Western Kentucky athletics director Todd Stewart said on Wednesday. "Mike Sanford is that person."

#HilltopperNation, welcome your new head coach BACK to The Hill, Mike Sanford! #WelcomeBack


— WKU Football (@WKUFootball) December 14, 2016

Proud of you @CoachSanfordND and we are excited to be Toppers!! A pic back in 2010 where it all began!

— Anne-Marie Sanford (@AMSanford23) December 14, 2016

Congrats to @CoachSanfordND on being named HBC at WKU! Been a great two years. Can't thank you enough for what you've done for me and ND!

— Mike McGlinchey (@BigGlinch68) December 14, 2016

Huge congrats and wish @CoachSanfordND nothing but the best! Terrific coach but an even better person!

— Scott Daly (@sdaly61) December 14, 2016

Congrats to @CoachSanfordND on becoming the new HBC at WKU! Can't thank you enough for everything the past two years. Best of luck!

— Nolan Henry (@Nolan_Henry12) December 14, 2016