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CU Buffs hire Mike Sanford as offensive coordinator

Veteran coach spent last two seasons at Minnesota

Minnesota offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. during the Gophers football practice at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
Minnesota offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. during the Gophers football practice at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell is hoping Mike Sanford can be the man to energize the Buffaloes’ offense.

On Friday, CU and Dorrell announced that Sanford, the former Minnesota offensive coordinator, has been hired as the Buffaloes’ offensive coordinator, replacing Darrin Chiaverini, who was fired last month.

As is the case with all CU hires, is it subject to approval from the board of regents.

CU’s press release did not specify which position Sanford, 39, would coach with the Buffaloes. He has coached quarterbacks at previous stops and played quarterback at Boise State from 2000-04.

Danny Langsdorf has been the Buffs’ quarterbacks coach the past two seasons and is still on staff at this point; his current contract expires Feb. 14. Chiaverini coached receivers during his time with the Buffs.

Sanford, a coaching veteran of 17 years, spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Minnesota. Last month, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck decided to not retain Sanford for next season. Sanford’s contract with Minnesota was set to expire in January.

In addition to his time at Minnesota, Sanford has experience as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Utah State (2019), Notre Dame (2015-16) and Boise State (2014).

He was the head coach at Western Kentucky from 2017-18, going 9-16. He was fired after going 3-9 in his second season with the Hilltoppers.

Sanford has also had coaching stops at Stanford, Yale and UNLV.

“Mike’s extensive experience and pedigree speaks for itself,” Dorrell said in a press release. “What attracted me to him was his familiarity with the Pac-12 and this part of the country, his coaching experience, success as a coordinator and developing players over his career.

“His journey through the profession has been solid, yet he is still a fairly young coach with great coaching experience at the Power 5 level.  He has worked under some of the best in the business, has great knowledge of offensive football and in our discussions, has a great vision for Colorado football.”

Sanford will take over an offense that was one of the worst in the country this season. The Buffs ranked 121st nationally, out of 130 schools, in scoring at 18.8 points per game. They were 129th in total yards (257.6 per game) – the worst average for a CU offense since 1964 and the worst for any Power 5 team since 2014.

This will be Sanford’s second stop in the Pac-12. He was an assistant coach at Stanford from 2011-13, at various times coaching running backs, receivers and quarterbacks, while serving as recruiting coordinator for two years. While at Stanford, he helped to recruit Christian McCaffrey from Valor Christian High School. McCaffrey went on to become the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2015.

Sanford also grew up in Pac-12 country and starred at Los Alamitos High School in Southern California before playing at Boise State.

“The Colorado football program as well as the university itself stands for everything I value,” Sanford said in CU’s press release. “My family and I could not be more excited to return to our roots out west in Pac-12 country.  The University of Colorado has been a dream destination of mine since I was a kid growing up in California in the early ’90s.  I have the highest level of respect for Karl Dorrell as a football coach and for the man of integrity that he is.  We will work tirelessly to build a championship offense that will make the CU family proud.”

This season, Minnesota went 8-4 and had mixed results as Sanford guided Fleck’s run-heavy offense. The Golden Gophers ranked 84th nationally with 26.1 points per game and 98th with 360.2 yards per game.

Sanford and the Gophers routed the Buffs, 30-0, on Sept. 18 at Folsom Field. The Gophers ran for 277 yards and four touchdowns that day while adding 164 passing yards.

For the season, Minnesota ranked 30th nationally with 193.8 rushing yards per game, while running the ball on 69.3 percent of its plays. The Gophers ranked 70th with 4.23 yards per carry. The Gophers were 115th with 166.4 passing yards per game, but 66th in passer rating (137.44).

Minnesota’s offense ranked 21st in scoring (34.1) in 2019 under Kirk Ciarrocca, who left after that season to take the coordinator job at Penn State. After hiring Sanford, the Gophers slipped to 71st in scoring in 2020 (27.3) and 84th this season.  Last week, Fleck re-hired Ciarrocca to run the Gophers’ offense.

CU is scheduled to visit Minnesota next season, on Sept. 17.

Earlier this week, Dorrell said he’s confident the Buffs will be prolific on offense and that he seeks to have a balanced attack.

“It’s going to have the ability to be really good in the pass game, and also be foundationally set by being balanced and running the football as well,” he said. “Both of those facets are really important. … I don’t want to be a pass happy team. I don’t want that to be the only thing that we do, throwing it 60 times a game. I like it to be 30 to 35 times a game throwing the football and I like to run it 25 to 30 times a game.”