Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2015 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE him on the flight, giving Sanford the perfect platform — once he gathered himself — to deliver his presentation to the man who became his new boss about 30 days later. "To me, every job that I had a chance to get over the next six years, to really get my coaching career started, came out of that meeting," said Sanford, who was hired as an offensive assistant by Harbaugh to help develop the Cardinal quarterbacks. That chance meeting and his first real coaching job helped to eventually bring Sanford to Notre Dame nine years later, as unlikely as that arrival seemed last season when he was serving as offen- sive coordinator at Boise State, his alma mater. Coaches often talk about being adaptable, but very few are. And with more than 30 years in the business, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has become habitually comfort- able with his processes and routines, especially when making his staff and personnel decisions. Since taking his first Division I head coaching job at Central Michigan in 2004, Kelly has used a large percent- age of his assistant hires on coaches he shared time with during 17 seasons coaching at Division II Grand Valley State from 1987-2003. This comfort level and loyalty have served Kelly well with his hiring deci- sions. He ranks second among all ac- tive Division I coaches in career wins, behind only 29-year veteran Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. But as the 2014 Notre Dame season turned south during a four-game losing streak, Kelly recognized the time had come to think out of the "Grand Valley Box" and infuse his program with some fresh faces and ideas. Enter the 33-year- old Sanford. "It's natural that sometimes you run a system of offense, like I have for over 25 years, that you become accustomed to doing things a certain way," Kelly said. "I felt like for the last four or five years that I had to provide all the en- ergy in that [meeting] room. And now Mike provides a great deal of the ideas, the energy." Sanford is the furthest Kelly has ever reached outside of his comfort zone with a hire so close to the offensive- decision making process, and the move is paying quick dividends. At the halfway point of this regular season (through the Navy game), this was the most productive Irish offense Kelly has fielded in his six years here — in terms of rushing yards, total yards and points scored. But beyond striving for raw offensive improvements, being as much a mentor as a coach is what most drives Stanford. It's part of what makes him one of the top risers in the business. "He has a great balance of high ex- pectations, being tough on them but at the same time, having a great relation- ship with his players," the elder San- ford said of his son. "And I don't think that formula fits any better than it does at Notre Dame." ✦ Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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