Preview 2017: Western Kentucky Is The New Coaching Hot Spot
With the hiring of Mike Sanford, can he keep up the level of coaching at what’s growing into a big-time stepping stone gig?
It’s not a bad thing to be the new cradle of coaches.
The program that Jack Harbaugh helped bring into the world of big-time college football took a while to get up a head of steam, but now it’s humming as the Conference USA superstar thanks to great offenses coming from terrific coaches who use the gig as a launching pad for bigger things.
WKU isn’t going to enjoy a top head man sticking around for 14 years like Harbaugh did – at least, no coach will be around for that long if he’s able to have a high degree of success – but if new head man Mike Sanford can be the next Willie Taggart, Bobby Petrino and/or Jeff Brohm in the progression, no one will complain.
If you’re a Group of Five program, you want to be known as the one that every hot coaching prospect wants to take over as a place to succeed.
And now it’s up to Sanford to show that he’s ready to step up and star.
Just 35, he’s really, really young, but extremely accomplished in his short career, making his name as a running backs coach at Stanford before cranking up the Boise State offense for a year, leading to two years as Brian Kelly’s offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
As a former quarterback at Boise State, and having worked for a year as the quarterback coach at WKU, he gets the mindset and mentality of a top-shelf Group of Fiver. But even for an upwardly mobile young guy with a top offensive mind, there will be growing pains.
There will be mistakes, and there will be times when he’s the new guy in his first head coaching gig trying to figure it all out.
There’s losing talent, and there’s losing an NFL starting tackle in Forrest Lamp, two statistical-superstar receivers in Taywan Taylor and Nichols Norris, a 29-touchdown running back in Anthony Wales, the top two tacklers, and in all, 11 players who earned all-conference honors from the Conference USA championship team.
But the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and fifth-best overall attack gets back QB Mike White, a slew of excellent backs to work around, and a few decent receiver prospects to keep it all going. If the line can rebuild in a hurry, everything should be okay. Maybe it won’t be at a 2016 level, but it’ll still be strong.
The defense didn’t get as much ink as the high-powered O, but the run defense was the second-best in the country – partly because everyone spent so much time throwing the ball – and the special teams were among the best in the nation, and should be again.
And most of all, now the system is in place for Sanford to be that Next Coach Up who can keep the championship production rolling.