In the first 24 hours of having the Gophers offensive coordinator job, Mike Sanford Jr. called about 15 Gophers players, including all of the quarterbacks and returning starters, just trying to learn about them.
After a week in the position, Sanford said Thursday he’s still in the information-gathering stage, trying to study what works in the Gophers offense and how he can add to that. With the offense returning all but two starters next year and having scored 443 points in an 11-2 season, Sanford isn’t about to overhaul the system.
“It won’t be a wholesale change by any stretch,” Sanford said of his player-focused view on continuing the success the Gophers had with the run-pass option and play-action. “… To come in and try to make them learn a bunch of new things would make absolutely no sense. But for us to try to find what’s been done and grow it, it makes a whole lot of sense.”
Sanford said his coaching style is about details and efficiency, taking care of the football and being physical. His philosophy is to use opportunities off the run game to throw the ball down the field, maintaining the explosiveness the Gophers displayed this season.
The newcomer will call plays next season but plans to work “hand-in-hand” with newly promoted co-offensive coordinator Matt Simon — who also earned a “hefty” pay bump, according to Gophers coach P.J. Fleck — as well as the rest of the offensive staff in a “no-egos” environment. Fleck said he’s looking forward to Sanford leading a group effort among the offensive coaches, which will give everyone on the staff a chance to share input and develop.
Fleck said he likes the offensive coordinator also coaching the quarterbacks, hence Sanford’s hiring while Simon continues as the receivers coach. And with Sanford’s résumé at age 37 already sporting head coaching experience from Western Kentucky, Fleck said he knew it was only a matter of time before he hired Sanford, someone he’s known as a friend for several years.
“When you look at the organization of his practices, through how hard they practice, you could see the relationships between him and his quarterbacks and the way that his offenses were well-organized and well-detailed,” Fleck said. “The efficiency of the offense, and everybody was on one page. And I think that’s critical when you go watch practices, is there a coordinator in charge, or is it just the head coach, or is nobody in charge?
“… You saw complete command from him at a very early age, and that’s hard to ignore.”