The University of Minnesota is hiring Mike Sanford Jr. as its next offensive coordinator, a source told Yahoo Sports. Sanford spent last year as the offensive coordinator at Utah State and brings extensive experience and a longstanding relationship with coach P.J. Fleck.
Sanford spent two seasons as the head coach at Western Kentucky in 2017-18 and brings a varied background at successful programs. He served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame from 2015-16 and served as Boise State’s offensive coordinator in 2014. He also spent three seasons in various offensive staff positions at Stanford, including coaching quarterbacks in 2013.
Sanford replaces Kirk Ciarrocca, who left for Penn State prior to Minnesota’s bowl victory over Auburn. Ciarrocca’s departure left a key position on Fleck’s staff, as Ciarrocca had been with Fleck since he began his head-coaching career at Western Michigan in 2013.
Sanford inherits an offense that expects to return nine starters, including star quarterback Tanner Morgan, who was second-team All-Big Ten, and wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who was named the best receiver in the Big Ten. The Gophers lose star receiver Tyler Johnson and tailback Rodney Smith. (Backup tailback Mohamed Ibrahim should transition easily to the starting role.) The Gophers had the third-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten in 2019, as they scored 34.1 points per game.
Minnesota is expected to run a similar multiple system that it has used in the past, with Sanford working closely with wide receiver coach and pass-game coordinator Matt Simon. A source told Yahoo Sports that Simon has been promoted to co-offensive coordinator. (Simon served as interim offensive coordinator in the Outback Bowl and called plays as Minnesota gained 494 yards in the 31-24 win over Auburn.)
Sanford, 37, brings a jolt of youth and enthusiasm to Fleck’s staff. There’s a strong sense of mutual admiration between the two. They first met when Sanford was Boise’s offensive coordinator in 2014, and Fleck’s Western Michigan team was playing in the Famous Potato Bowl.
In an MLive article in 2016, Sanford said he admired how Fleck took time to hang out with the Boise staff and talk ball while he was in town for the bowl. “We were in there game-planning for the Fiesta Bowl and he just hung out,” Sanford told MLive. “We were bouncing ideas off of him and I was just really drawn to his overall energy and creativity, and he was awesome to have around.”
Sanford Jr. is the son of former UNLV and Indiana State head coach Mike Sanford Sr., who is a longtime college coach and former USC quarterback.