CU’s New Offensive Coordinator Mike Sanford – Pros and Cons

Mike Sanford, a veteran of 17 seasons as a college coach in assorted positions including six as an offensive coordinator, has been named the new offensive coordinator at Colorado.

Sanford, 39, comes to Colorado from the University of Minnesota, where he was the Gophers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the last two seasons.  His resume includes personally coaching almost every position at one time or another on offense, in addition to experience as a recruiting coordinator and two years as a head coach (at Western Kentucky).  He has coached and/or recruited numerous players who have earned All-America honors and have gone on to play professionally in the National Football League.

There are many supporters of the hire … and many detractors. For every positive offered about Sanford’s past, there is a counter-point to the argument. For every negative stat thrown out, there is an explanation.

What will CU get from its new offensive coordinator?

Let’s take a look  …

Years of experience … 

Mike Sanford’s Coaching Experience

 2005-06 UNLV Graduate Assistant/Quarterbacks & Specialists
 2007-08 Stanford Offensive Assistant/Quarterbacks
 2009 Yale Recruiting Coordinator/Fullbacks & Tight Ends
 2010 Western Kentucky Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks
 2011 Stanford Running Backs
 2012  Stanford Recruiting Coordinator/Running Backs
 2013 Stanford Recruiting Coordinator/Quarterbacks & Wide Receivers
 2014 Boise State Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
 2015-16 Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
 2017-18 Western Kentucky Head Coach
 2019 Utah State Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
 2020-21 Minnesota Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks

When Mike Sanford opens the 2022 season as CU, he will bring with him six year’s experience as an offensive coordinator: one year at Boise State; two years at Notre Dame; one year at Utah State; and two years at Minnesota.

When Darrin Chiaverini returned to Boulder as the new offensive coordinator in 2016, he brought with him four years of experience as an offensive coordinator: one year at Mt. San Antonio College; and three years at Riverside City College.

So, at least Sanford will not be learning on the job as Chiaverini was when Chiaverini first came to Boulder.

“Mike’s extensive experience and pedigree speaks for itself,” Dorrell said.  “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.”

Dorrell’s phrase, “worked under some of the best in the business”, is not a great embellishment. The coaches Sanford has worked under include: P.J. Fleck, Brian Kelly, David Shaw, Jim Harbaugh, Gary Andersen, Bryan Harsin, Willie Taggart and his father, Mike Sanford, Sr.; his offensive coordinator and position coach in college was Chris Petersen.

How well Sanford can translate that education at CU, of course, is open to question.

Recruiting … 

With the advent of NIL and the era of $50,000 paychecks for offensive linemen (Texas), recruiting for schools like Colorado is all the more difficult … and all the more important.

Sanford is replacing CU’s recruiting coordinator, so it doesn’t hurt that he has experience recruiting (it hasn’t been announced if Sanford will be also serve as CU’s recruiting coordinator).

Among his top recruits were running back Christian McCaffrey, who he helped land at Stanford prior to moving on to Boise State for his first coordinator position; quarterbacks Ian Book Phil Jurkovec, receiver Jacon McKinley and guard Aaron Banks (Notre Dame) and quarterback Brett Rypien (Boise State).  And also at Stanford, as an offensive staff assistant early in his career and with no full-time quarterback coach on the staff at the time, he was instrumental in the recruitment and early development of Andrew Luck.

The Buff Nation will have to see if Sanford is able to lure a top quarterback to Colorado. The 2022 NFL Draft will not see a CU quarterback name called, making it an even 25 years since a Buff quarterback has been drafted (Koy Detmer, 1997) … so it’s a tough hill to climb.

But he’s not … 

One name which was bandied about as a possible candidate as CU’s next offensive coordinator is Pitt wide receivers coach Brennan Marion.

Had Marion been the choice, his lack of experience surely would have been at issue. Marion has offensive coordinator experience … at Howard and William and Mary.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but Marion’s resume sounds a great deal like that of … Darrin Chiaverini.

Offensive philosophy …

A great deal has been made of the fact that Sanford was let go by Minnesota after his two years as the offensive coordinator.

The Golden Gophers ranked 115th in passing in 2021, averaging only 166.4 yards per game (CU was 126th, with 131.2). Minnesota was 99th in total offense, and 84th in scoring offense (26.1 points per game). After passing for 3,253 yards, 30 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in 2019, star Golden Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan passed for a combined 3,309 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions combined in two seasons under Sanford.

But … there are reasons to believe that Karl Dorrell saw something beyond the Minnesota offensive numbers … right?

I turn to CU at the Gamer Rob O, who posted this in the comments section after Sanford was hired:

So there is a lot of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on this hire over on the 247 site. As the wife went to out tonight for a girl’s night I decided to spend some time seeing if I could figure out what I thought.

My first note is that I only considered the Boise State 2014, Utah State 2019, and both Minnesota seasons as these were the seasons he was an offensive coordinator and calling plays. A bit of research shows at Notre Dame Kelly was calling the plays.

With that:
Sanford likes to run the ball. He likes to run it a lot and we should expect that. The only exception is when he has a program changing QB (Jordan Love in this case) and in that case he only makes it about 50/50.
Boise State 2014: 57%
Utah State 2019: 47.4% (Jordan Love)
Minn 2020: 61.8%
Minn 2021: 69%

As I do not see a Jordan Love in our immediate future I think we should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70% of plays to be runs.

Discussing offensive efficiency, as opposed to offensive stats, Rob went on:

There are a couple of places on the internet that try and measure this. They try and even it out using mathematical models to try and factor in strength of the opponent and such and so it is a measurement that is up to debate but it can at least give you an indicator:

ESPN has its Efficiencies page you can go digging for. In 2021 Minnesota Offensive efficiency ranked 37 in the country. Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, and Arizona State had a better number in the PAC12 this year. Colorado was 117.

Football Outsiders has a similar idea with its Offensive FEI with
– 2021: Minnesota coming in at 36. And Utah, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State better in the PAC12. Colorado was 110.
– 2020: Minnesota came in at 40 (even with a bad record so I assume their defense was particularly bad). Colorado with our lovely 4-2 record came in at 57…..

This is how a team with the 84th ranked scoring offense only scoring 27 points and the 99th ranked total offense with only 360 yards ends up with an 8-4 record and second in the big 10 west with a win against a top 20 opponent. They are purposely slowing the game down, reducing the number of times their opponent touches the ball while trying to be more efficient with scoring when they touch the ball.

At Rivals, a poster under the heading for Scavenger posted this …

Minny’s Offensive Stats
3rd down efficiency – 17th (CU 120th)
4th down conversion – 33rd (CU 125th)
Completion % – 84th (CU 99th)
1st downs – 84th (CU 128th)
Passing O – 115th (CU 126th)
Passing yards/completion – 19th (CU 121st)
Rushing O – 31st (CU 99th)
Scoring O – 84th (CU 121st)
Passing Efficiency – 62nd (Utah 61st, CU 110th)
Time of Possession – 4th (CU 121st)
Total O – 98th (CU 129th)

First of all, you have to look at the TOTAL picture. Minnesota was a ball control offense as one can see by their top non service academy time of possession. They were a slow it down team that huddled, then changed plays at the line of scrimmage, and used all of the time on the clock before snapping it. We literally saw this all game long in Folsom field. This was their offensive philosophy. They hold the ball so the other team can’t score. They were also one of the best teams in the country in 3rd and 4th down efficiency so they got 1st downs… something we struggled terribly with! They didn’t have a ton of 1st downs as you can see by the numbers (84th), but that’s because they slowed the game down to a methodical pace. They didn’t try to throw the ball a lot. They don’t have Rashad Bateman (with the Baltimore Ravens) and had both starting receivers injured for parts of the year.

Bottom line … 

Mike Sanford was making about what Darrin Chiaverini was to serve as an offensive coordinator at a Power Five conference (both north of $600,000/year). While contract numbers haven’t been released, you can figure that Sanford will be making something in the neighborhood of what he was making in Minneapolis.

And that’s kind of the point.

Some Buff fans were expecting – make that demanding – a “splash hire”, a name they were already familiar with, to come in and be the next offensive coordinator. But that wasn’t realistic on two counts: First, Karl Dorrell wasn’t about to bring in a name bigger than his own. If successful, there could have been issues of credit going more to the hire than the head coach, causing issues (see: Leavitt, Jim, 2016). Second, the money just isn’t there. Hate to keep beating a dead horse, but unless CU finds a sugar daddy to finance the program, the Buffs’ options for coaching hires are limited by their budget.

Some other Buff fans were expecting a young stud hire who would come in and bring fresh energy to the position. You want a young, dynamic, risk-taking offensive coordinator?

Have you met Karl Dorrell? That’s not in his DNA.

For better or worse, this is Karl Dorrell’s team. You can argue that, being hired under unusual circumstances, that he was left with little choice but to keep on offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini.

That excuse is now gone. Arguably the most important hires for a head coach are his two coordinators and his strength and conditioning coach.

All three of those hires are now his.

Karl Dorrell might not like it, but the CU fan base is not interested in slow and steady improvement. The 4-2 COVID year is now a distant memory. The 4-8 season is now Dorrell’s reality.

The 2022 schedule does Dorrell no favors, with no layups in the non-conference (TCU, at AFA, at Minnesota), and a November schedule of Oregon; at USC; at Washington; Utah.

Sanford will likely be given a multi-year contract by the University of Colorado.

But he won’t have multiple years to prove he was the right choice.


35 Replies to “CU’s New OC Mike Sanford – Pros and Cons”

  1. Well I was tempted to answer your poll question with the “neither if I’m being honest” in re OL and DL
    Despitre picking Bowswer in the poll, I do think beefing up and coaching up the trenches is the biggest off-season issue that needs to be addressed.
    KD, please address this with great emphasis, burn the midnight oil and do not overlook
    Stay tuned Buff fans

  2. I really don’t understand ball control offenses in the modern game. That absolutely feels to me like you’re saying “we want to lose, but by a smaller margin”.

    Cool. Meanwhile, offensive innovation drives smaller schools to new heights and drives programs like WSU to relevancy.

    1. Well? The internet is just a fad, man. Same with spread offenses and tempo. Maybe?

      Seriously though, there’s a lot of ways to win football games. I don’t mind the old school west coast style, if they can get the players who can execute it. Or if the players they have can execute it.

      I just wish they would open spring practices. Since we all have the playbook, what’s the secrecy for anyway?

      Go Buffs

    2. Okay then if that is what you want,
      Be a fan of those smaller schools which play smaller schools and still lose.


    3. Priceless. Vk went from a fan of modern and unpredictable offense to a fan of three yards and a cloud of dust. In a weekend. So he likes Karl and Sanford. Likely means he will focus his ire on either the qb or o line coach. Classic.

      Go Buffs

      1. Nah,
        I’m fine.
        Old style
        New style
        Combined style
        who cares
        just win baby.

        Substance over style.

        Buffs baby

        Note: Your speculation is classic…………….not

  3. I have one bone to pick with Stuart’s analysis. HCKD doesn’t strike me as being so ego driven as to intentionally not make a splash hire for fear of being outshined. I could be wrong, as I don’t know him personally, but that seems like an unfair criticism. None of this is going to work until and unless the offensive line gets fixed. One more hire, much more gnashing of teeth to ensue. GO BUFFS!!!

  4. Just watched the Kimmel bowl. Ut St wasnt going to be denied in spite of using their 3rd string QB. When he had to come in you know the OSU DC was thinking Ut St was gong to do the usual chiken poop thing by only letting the QB hand of a couple of times and maybe throw a dink to “ease him into the game”
    Not so
    first play a 62 yd bomb for TD
    The OC helped him out a little more. Later on a double pass back to the QB for big yards and a 1st down. I think on the same drive on the way to a TD there was a direct snap to the tailback while the QB acted ,like he was looking at the sideline for a play call. 10 more yards and another first down. Gott I loved that one. If you have to run up the middle find some way to give it a better chance. The only thing I didnt like from the Ut St OC was trying to run out the clock too early with runs up the middle. Desperate OSU lost the game on Utah’s last drive with penalties.
    On the flip side OSU did rack up some yards mostly due to their O line but too many times they froze in the red zone. Sound familiar?

  5. No way to spin this. It’s more of the same. No creativity. You think a player wants to get to game day to ‘run out the clock’ with ‘ball control’ ? No wonder they can’t recruit.
    In any line of work, Sanford’s track record is a red flag. Teams get worse under his watch, has left or been fired from 10 times.
    And money is a self induced problem. We quit donating with a poor, boring product run by lazy recruiters and pithy know-it all, do nothing coaches.

    1. P.S…..and his news conference last week ? ‘ I only hire good coaches ‘? Please. I really wish the Ad cared about success, obvious they are fine with the status quo. Thanks for the ‘splash hire’ you promised George. Your donation from me just splashed in the bowl.

    2. From a tweet from Brian Howell at the Daily Camera … “New Colorado OC Mike Sanford has been an FBS assistant for 10 seasons in his career. The teams he has coached have gone 80-44 with 7 bowl appearances and 5 10-win seasons.”
      If that’s “getting worse”, then CU could use some of that …

      1. “ The teams he has coached have gone 80-44 with 7 bowl appearances and 5 10-win seasons.”
        If that’s “getting worse”, then CU could use some of that …”

        AMEN to that!!! (and exactly on point)

      2. The last 6 offenses he coached got WORSE with him in charge.
        His last 4 QBs got WORSE as he coached him.

        Can CU afford either to happen ?

        1. No
          but 8-4 is a great starting point eh?
          He was oc of boise state in 2014 they were 12-2
          He was not oc of boise state in 2013 they were 8-5

          in 2014 the irish were 8-5 he was not OC
          in 2015 he was irish oc they were 10-3 defense was 39 giving up24 per
          in 2016 he was the irish oc they were 4-8, 53 in scoring 31 per game defense was 61st 28 pts per game It was a team problem. Poor qb and bad defense
          2019 utah state. yup he didn’t do good here. Graduation hurt it. Wrong players for the style course anderson was gone after 2020
          2020 minnesota covid year. blah
          2021 8-4 take it (Fleck has had one good year…..we will see)

          So to sum your an exaggerator

          truthfull buffs eh

          1. I get it, your a fan. And you’ll find excuses on how nothing is his fault.
            But Sanford doesn’t move the needle. He does average his first year, then regresses until he moves on or is fired. It’s more of the same, stale O philosophy. And we don’t have the OL he had at Minn.
            Even gopher fans wonder how he got another job.

          2. I get it too.

            Yur a fan and have expectations that may not be realistic.
            Yup we want to win every game, win the division, win the conference, win the NC, win every individual player award and do it every year.

            What has been missing the last 15 years is a plan. A frigging plan. HCKD has a plan. You may not like the style, but it is a plan.

            I am confident he will succeed.

            Yup I am a fan through thick and thin.



    3. Guess you weren’t around in 1985, when Bill McCartney went old school and went to the triple option. “Run the clock” and “ball control” – how did Marolt let him keep his job?
      McCartney was 7-25-1 in his first three years – and kept his job. Karl Dorrell has more wins (8-10) in a year-and-a-half than McCartney did in three, but has a leash about an inch long.

      1. Please…been around longer than that. KD and Sanford are Fairbanks redux. We are along way from the staffs Mac built.

        1. Coach Mac built an incredible coaching tree with his assistants … we just didn’t know it at the time.
          The list below were Mac assistants in the early 80’s. All became FBS head coaches. Here’s where they came from …

          Les Miles? Part-time offensive line coach at Michigan
          Jim Caldwell? Defensive backs coach at Northwestern
          Gerry DiNardo? Defensive line coach at Eastern Michigan
          Gary Barnett? Head coach at Ft. Lewis College
          Lou Tepper? Linebacker coach at Virginia Tech
          Ron Taylor? Private business for three years (previous: HC Northeast Missouri State)
          Ron Dickerson? Cornerbacks coach at Temple
          Ron Vanderlinden? Offensive line coach at Ball State

          Not to say that any of Dorrell’s coaches are destined to be head coaches, but if any of the above had been hired by Dorrell this week, the Buff Nation would have gone into full attack mode …

          1. I think I still have my recruiting letter from Barnett at Ft. Lewis in a scrapbook somewhere. Coach Mac’s son was a QB there.

          2. Great comments Stuart and crew, I agree with your arguments and think this is an upgrade too.

            And, ANY of us would like to see a couple of years of 8-4 with years like he had in 2014 & 2015 (thanks VK) following.

            We’ll see, but I think the Buffs can get there, we were happy when certain coaches of the past came back i.e. Greg Brown and those coaches did ok, but few of those had more experience or pedigree that Sanford has… And 8-4 in the B1G is a big deal compared to a MAC team.

            Take away a couple of bad losses ( I think there were injuries and such) and really they have some good wins too. CU beat a bad UW team with defense and an okay Oregon State team, improve the offense to Minns numbers and CU wins 4 more games including A&M.

            And who knows where that momentum leads?

  6. If we run a ball control offense like Utah does and Stanford did, I’ll be OK with this hire. But as others have said, that requires a strong O line and really good O line coach. We’ll just to have to stay positive and hope till next Fall. Need to win 2 of the first 3 games next year.
    Personally, I wish he wouldn’t keep signing players and use those spots for seasoned players from the transfer portal. We need real help at some spots right now so we can play and win in 2022.
    Go Buffs

  7. The reality is, none of us know if this was a good hire, or not. Karl doesn’t even know. He will find out long before we do, though.

    For us? It’ll likely take at least half the season to have enough information to start firming opinions.

    What I think we do know now though, is the 2021 offense was Karl’s run by Chev, and poorly executed by the players.

    I still maintain a solid qb Will go a long way to making things click. Even in Karl’s offense. Aided by an improved o line. If you only have 20 or thirty pass plays, completing only 60% or less is not a recipe for success/efficiency.

    Go Buffs

    1. If it was HCKD’s offense, it was run poorly by chev.
      Before the game and during the game.

      Those calls in the A&M game were Chev’s and nobody elses.
      Clueless and proven over and over.

      Off we go…..

      Business Buffs.

      1. To be dead last in pretty much every offensive category, it was probably more than one guy running it poorly. Players included. It wasn’t all b-lew either. It was a collective shit show. Hopefully a new o line coach and OC will help. You can’t do worse than dead last, can you? Let’s hope not.

        Go Buffs

        1. True,
          you said “What I think we do know now though, is the 2021 offense was Karl’s run by Chev, and poorly executed by the players.

          But you blame it on your belief it was HCKD offense

          Then you dance.

          That is okay.

          I like pole dancers.


    2. “Karl doesn’t even know. He will find out long before we do, though.”

      does that mean they are going to tape delay the games?

      ‘For us? It’ll likely take at least half the season to have enough information to start firming opinions.’

      The dude has spoken….for himself

      FYI the passing attempts during the season averaged out to slightly less than 21.5 per game. Not the QB’s decision and not enough to really oil the machine.
      Along with Chev’s dismal play calling and the equally dismal O line play 60%, 10 TDs 3 picks ratio ain’t bad at all.
      If I was Lewis I would have had my finger on the portal trigger right up to his firing

  8. When I here balanced offense I here predictable. If you have a dominant offensive line it makes sense but CU has not had that since ChrisBrown ran all over Neb. Here’s hoping they bring innovation back to the table and utilize the tight end. If they try and line up and run it up the middle we will be in for another long season and likely a new head coach search▶️

  9. It’s all a pump fake.
    HCKD is incredibly smart.

    Pundits are only guessing, speculating, imagining, hoping bla blewy eh?

    “Not much between despair and ecstasy”
    “And thank God I’m only watching the game, controlling it”


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