Utah Football: The next Ute coach? Sanford reportedly at top of list

The next Ute coach? Sanford reportedly at top of list
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

So, who is Mike Sanford?

And why is he considered one of the leading candidates to become Utah's new head coach when Urban Meyer goes to Notre Dame or Florida?

In simplest terms, Sanford is the Utes' offensive coordinator - a 49-year-old career coach who became friends with Meyer when both were assistants at Notre Dame in 1997-98.

After 25 years in the business, Sanford joined Meyer's staff at Utah in 2003 and immediately gained notoriety as the engineer of a high-powered attack that eventually sparked the Utes to 21 wins in 23 games.

This season, Utah went 11-0 and averaged 46.3 points per game. The Utes scored at least 41 points in nine

of their 11 games. They scored over 50 points in five of their last six games.

Under Sanford's guidance, junior Alex Smith emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He is a finalist for the Walter Camp Foundation and Cingular Wireless/ABC Sports All-America player of the year awards.

Smith credits Sanford for much of his success.

"His strength is, he's a very intelligent person," Smith said. "As far as a game plan goes, he's one of the best I've ever been around. ... The guy just knows football."

Is Sanford as intense at Meyer?

"I don't know if anybody is that intense," Smith said, laughing.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah's defensive coordinator, is also considered to be a candidate at Utah, but he already has been contacted by officials at BYU for the job there and sources say he'd relish the challenge of returning his alma mater to prominence. Although he is interested in the Utes as well, sources said it's more likely Whittingham will follow Meyer to Notre Dame or Florida if he doesn't get the job at BYU.

During his career, Sanford has coached in nine bowl games during stints at USC, Purdue, Notre Dame and Stanford. He also spent three years in the NFL as an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers.

A native of Los Altos, Calif., Sanford is the father of two children, Lindsay and Michael - a quarterback at Boise State.

At Utah, Sanford's contributions to the Utes' historic success has been noticed around the country.

He has interviewed for the vacant head coaching job at UNLV and was considered a front-runner until he emerging as a logical candidate to replace Meyer.

While Sanford could still end up at UNLV, the Rebels are reportedly leaning toward Purdue offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, Arizona Cardinals running back coach Kirby Wilson or Michigan State offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

UNLV believes - perhaps correctly - that Sanford will end up being Utah's head coach.

Sanford was also considered for the job as offensive coordinator at Clemson. He befriended Tiger coach Tommy Bowden last summer, when the Clemson staff came to Salt Lake City for a week to study the nuances of Utah's offense.

When Notre Dame or Florida hires Meyer - whether Sanford takes over at Utah or not - the job of rebuilding the coaching staff looks like it will be a major one.

Quarterback coach Dan Mullen, offensive line coach John Hevesy and receiver coach Billy Gonzales are expected to join Meyer's new staff.

If Whittingham gets the job at BYU, defensive line coach Gary Andersen could go to Provo with him.

The status of linebacker coach Kurt Barber, cornerback coach Chuck Heater and tight end coach Keith Uperesa would be less certain.

Mike Sanford file

Current job: Offensive coordinator, Utah, 2003-04

Age: 49

Hometown: Los Altos, Calif.

Education: B.S., Southern California, 1978

Coaching Experience: Offensive coordinator, Stanford, 2002; Receivers coach, San Diego Chargers, 1999-01; Quarterbacks coach, Notre Dame, 1997-98; Receivers coach, USC, 1989-96; Quarterbacks coach, Purdue, 1987-88; Offensive coordinator, Long Beach State, 1983-86; Quarterbacks coach, VMI, 1981-82.

The Case For: As Utah's most experienced assistant coach, Sanford has successfully installed his wide-open offense at many schools throughout the country, and his attack was wildly successful at Utah this season.

The Case Against: Has never been a head coach.

Kyle Whittingham file

Current job: Defensive coordinator, Utah, 1994-2004

Age: 45

Hometown: Provo, Utah

Education: B.S and M.S. from Brigham Young, 1984 and 1987

Previous Coaching Experience: Linebackers coach, special teams coordinator, Idaho State, 1988-91; Defensive coordinator, CEU, 1987; Graduate assistant, BYU, 1985-86.

Notable: Played briefly in the NFL and the USFL

The Case For: A native Utahn, Whittingham has paid his dues and been loyal to the U. for 11 years, passing up opportunities to leave while building one of the best defenses in college football.

The Case Against: He played for rival BYU and has never been a head coach at any level.