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December 30, 2013

Rose Bowl Media Day: Mike Sanford

After three seasons at Stanford - two as running backs coach and one as quarterbacks/receivers coach, Mike Sanford will leave The Farm after the Rose Bowl to become the offensive coordinator at Boise State, where Sanford played quarterback from 2000-2004. Cardinal Sports Report caught up with Sanford at Rose Bowl Media Day to discuss his decision to return to his alma mater, the development of Ryan Burns, and the top-ranked Michigan State defense.

Cardinal Sports Report: Kevin Hogan, with the way he finished the year, how has he looked during bowl practices. Have you seen a continuation of what he did against Arizona State, against Cal? Has that carried over?

Mike Sanford: It really has. I think his confidence is at a really high level right now. He's executing at a very high level. I'm really excited to see how he plays in this game against arguably the best defense in college football and one of the best defenses I've seen on tape since I've been doing this in the last nine years. It's a great challenge but he's really prepared well every single practice, which seems like we've had about 60 of them. He's come out with a really game-like mentality, going through his reads and making everything game-like. It's been really impressive to see what he's done.

CSR: Does the Michigan State defense have any weaknesses? Are there any areas in which they're susceptible to giving up yardage? Statistically they're the nation's No. 1 rushing defense and No. 2 pass efficiency defense…

MS: They're really stout. They do a great job in every area. Run game, pass game. I think the biggest thing is just they execute and they know their system in and out. They have really good players that have played in it for a long time. So it's going to be a challenge. In terms of weaknesses, there's no noticeable weaknesses at all. So we're going to have to probe a little bit early on and see where we can try to exploit their weaknesses.

CSR: Bowl practices are always talked about as a prime opportunity for the younger players to emerge. Have you seen any of that with Ryan Burns and Francis Owusu specifically?

MS: Those opportunities for those guys to get real reps running our offense as opposed to scout team offense are invaluable. I don't really know how teams that don't make a bowl game end up getting to that point because you feel like those teams that don't make a bowl game consistently miss out on those 20 opportunities to practice and get the young guys reps. This is a great opportunity. Those two guys have shown a lot of promise. Ryan got a ton of good reps. We had a lot of live scrimmage opportunities that he did really well in.

CSR: Everybody knows Ryan has a gun for an arm. Aside from mastering the mental side of it, is there anything physically that he needs to work on to get to a level where he'd be a BCS top-5, top-10, whatever caliber starting quarterback?

MS: He still has some fundamental things that he's working through particularly in his lower body. That's obviously just coach talk type stuff. I think he's got all the ability in the world athletically, arm-talent wise, intellectually, and as he continues to progress with his technique, his fundamentals, and just gets consistent with his stroke, he'll be really good.

CSR: Shifting gears, what played into your decision to accept the Boise State offensive coordinator position?

MS: I think just having the opportunity to talk to Coach Shaw about it before I made a decision. He's a guy I look up to as much as anybody in the coaching profession. He's a mentor to me. He's given me just about every opportunity I've had in this profession. Really asking him what he thought about it. And he looked me in the eye and said, 'Hey, Mike, you have to do this. This is a chance to coordinate and it's a chance to go back to your alma mater. And as you know, I've had that experience and there's nothing like coaching at your alma mater.' I thought that was poignant for me because I love that place. I believe in it. When you're sitting in people's living rooms and you're selling a university, if you truly believe in it, it makes that sell a lot more believable, a lot more convincing, and there's conviction there.

CSR: Finally, looking back on your time as running backs coach and quarterbacks/receivers coach at Stanford, is there one moment that really stands out to you? The thing that 50 years from now, if you never do coach at Stanford again, will be what warms your heart about your time there?

MS: Honestly I think this year's Pac-12 Championship game. I think emptying that stadium out, honestly, was one of the greatest feelings. It dawned on me the night before the game that if we win this Pac-12 Championship, A) we were going to empty out a stadium and B) we're going to have a wild, raucous celebration on the field, on the road, and get those hats and get those shirts and the confetti and all that stuff. To do that on the road was really special and it kind of gave us a chip on our shoulder to go out and prove something. Being the quarterback and receivers coach I was so stinking proud of Kevin and the receivers in that game. Just the way that they played after kind of an up-and-down year, it was obviously coming through in the biggest time of the year.


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