LOGAN, Utah — Utah State football head coach Gary Andersen named Mike Sanford as USU’s new assistant head coach, Andersen announced Tuesday. Sanford will coach the Aggies’ running backs and tight ends.
“I’m extremely honored and excited to be a part of Utah State football. I believe that Utah State is one of the top programs on the rise in the country, especially the western United States. Last season was definitely a strong indicator of that. I have tremendous respect for Gary Andersen and to be a part of his staff is a great privilege, and I’m thrilled to be coaching with him again. I had the opportunity to be on the same staff as him while at Utah and coaching against him when I was at UNLV, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for him as a football coach. It is a great honor to be a part of not only his staff but a part of Utah State Aggie football,” Sanford said.
Sanford and Andersen will be reuniting after being together on the University of Utah staff in 2004, when Andersen was the Utes’ defensive line coach and Sanford was offensive coordinator and running backs coach.
“When hiring an assistant coach, you always want to find someone who puts the student-athletes first and is the best coach out there, and Coach Sanford definitely fits both of those. I am extremely familiar with his coaching style and philosophies from coaching with him as well as coaching against him throughout the years. He brings a wealth of coaching knowledge and experience to our program having been at every level from the small college, all the way through to the NFL. He is a great addition to our staff and we’re excited to have him join our Aggie football family,” Andersen said.
In addition to Sanford’s hiring, Andersen announced that former USU standout David Fiefia (Fee-uh-fee-uh) will be a graduate assistant coach for the Aggies’ offense in the fall.
Sanford comes to USU after two seasons at Louisville, where as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, he helped improve the Cardinals’ offensive passing, improving from nine touchdown passes in 2009 to 20 in 2010. Louisville scored 23 or more points in nine games, including 56 in a win over Memphis. Sanford mentored Louisville tight end Cameron Graham to earn first-team all-Big East Conference accolades after catching 40 passes for 470 yards and five TDs.
Prior to Louisville, Sanford was head coach at UNLV from 2005-09, where he took over a program that was coming off four consecutive losing seasons. His five seasons tied for the third-longest coaching stint in Rebel football history. The Sanford-led Rebels made national headlines in 2008 with an upset win at No. 13 Arizona State. Under Sanford, UNLV’s offense set several school records in 2008, highlighted by tying for the top redzone scoring offense percentage (.950), matching Ohio State. UNLV’s offense was also 15th in the nation in sacks allowed (1.2 per game).
While at UNLV, Sanford faced Utah State three times, losing, 31-24 in 2005, before bouncing back with a 23-16 win in 2007 and a 27-17 victory in 2008. USU will face UNLV in the 2012 season, when the Aggies host the Rebels on Sept. 29.
During his time at UNLV, Sanford coached 29 all-Mountain West Conference honorees, including 2007 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Beau Bell, and 2006 MWC Freshman of the Year Ryan Wolfe, who went on to earn three first-team selections. In Sanford’s offense, Casey Flair set a school record and tied a MWC record with 47 consecutive games with a reception.
Sanford took over the UNLV program after two years at Utah as offensive coordinator and was part of the Utes’ 21-2 overall and 13-1 MWC two-year stretch, including 12-0 overall, 7-0 in MWC and victory in the 2004 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. After finishing last in the MWC in scoring offense the season before Sanford’s arrival, he led Utah to the No. 3 ranking in the nation at 43.3 points per game, third in total offense (499.8 ypg), third in passing efficiency (173.41) and boasted Heisman Trophy finalist Alex Smith, who went on to become the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was second in the NCAA in passing efficiency (176.52) and fifth in total offense (298.6 ypg).
Before Utah, Sanford was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Stanford in 2002, returning to the college ranks after three seasons in the NFL as wide receivers coach with the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001. Sanford’s NCAA Division I coaching experience includes stints at Notre Dame, USC, Purdue, Long Beach State, Virginia Military Institute and Army. As an assistant coach, Sanford has participated in 11 bowl games with four programs. As the wide receivers coach at USC from 1989-96, Sanford assisted in two Pac-10 championships and two Rose Bowl victories (vs. Michigan in 1990 and Northwestern in 1996). Three of his Trojan receivers were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft: Curtis Conway in 1992, Johnnie Morton in 1993 and Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft and a consensus All-American in 1995.
Sanford began his coaching career at Southern California in 1977, as a graduate assistant, before earning his bachelor’s degree from USC in 1978. Later that year, Sanford started his first full-time coaching position as the defensive coordinator at San Diego City College.
As a player, Sanford was a reserve quarterback for USC’s 1973 and 1974 Rose Bowl teams (the 1974 team beat Ohio State for the national championship). He played free safety in 1976 when USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and finished second in the nation.
Sanford and his wife, Melinda, have two children, daughter, Lindsay, and son, Mike, Jr., who is currently the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Stanford.
A native of West Valley City, Utah, Fiefia joins the USU staff after spending time away from football in the professional field, but is anxious to get back into football and is excited about joining the USU staff and back being a part of Aggie football.
Fiefia was a four-year letterwinner at running back with USU from 2000-03, earning first-team all-Sun Belt Conference honors as an all-purpose player in 2003, while also earning second-team all-Sun Belt accolades as both a running back and kick returner that same season. He was named Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 15, 2003, after recording 159 yards from scrimmage as he rushed 19 times for 77 yards and caught six passes for 82 more yards. He became the first USU player to record at least 70 rushing and 70 receiving yards in the same game since 2001. Fiefia also became the first USU player to earn an honor from the new conference in the Aggies’ first season in the new league.
After backing up Aggie legend Emmett White his first three seasons, Fiefia rushed for 967 yards with seven TDs as a senior, finishing his career with 1,193 yards and nine TDs. He also caught 80 passes for 707 yards with two TDs and had 37 career punt returns for 366 yards as well as 37 kick returns for 791 yards.
Utah State football opens spring camp on March 27 and concludes spring drills with the Blue-White Spring Game, sponsored by Orbit Irrigation Products, on Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. (MT).
Utah State football season ticket renewals and new sales for the 2012 season are available at 2011’s prices until May 1. Renewals are available online 24 hours a day at www.UtahStateAggies.com and clicking on the “buy/renew tickets” under the “tickets” drop down menu. Fans interested in new sales should contact the USU Ticket Office at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum or by phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or (435) 797-0305.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on the USU football blog at usufootball.wordpress.com. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on facebook at Utah State University Athletics.