A few weeks ago, Mike Sanford likened his current state as Western Kentucky football coach to being in a one-man band. The image of him marching up and down the street with a bass drum, banjo and harmonica has been ingrained in my noggin ever since.
Now, the 34-year-old maestro has gotten the band together.
“I could not be more excited about having a guitar player and a drummer and a saxophone player – now we have a lot of players of musical instruments,” he said last week. “I’m ecstatic about the group of coaches that we’ve been able to put together in a short period of time.”
The process was not a difficult one for Sanford. When WKU athletic director Todd Stewart interviewed the former Boise State quarterback for the job, Sanford already had his list of potential assistant coaches, and doggone it he’s been able to secure nearly every man he wanted from that list.
Steve Spurrier Jr., the team’s new quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach, said he was contacted by Sanford before the lead singer had even publicly accepted his own position. The man has had a plan – not just for himself, but for the Tops all along.
“It was a very easy process for me, really as a result of my exposure to so many different programs, so many different levels, and really having a chance to trust my eyes in this process,” Sanford said. “I’ve always heard you really only have one opportunity to get it right with your first staff. I was certainly going to default with what I’ve seen with my own eyes and the relationships that I’ve had a chance to build.”
Spurrier Jr., Mike Sanford Sr., Clayton White, Junior Adams, Geoff Dartt, Jimmy Lindsey, Jami DeBerry, Ryan Mahaffey and Maurice Crum (official announcement on that one expected soon) are all on board trying to make sweet, sweet music on The Hill. But Sanford didn’t bring them on stage just to win football games.
He spoke at length Friday about his efforts to make sure they understand his vision, Stewart’s vision, the vision of Western Kentucky University.
“I actually had a chance to bring president Ransdell in to address our whole staff (Thursday) and he spent about an hour and a half of his time with us, which was an incredible opportunity,” Sanford said. “I wanted president Ransdell to have a chance to install. You talk about football coaches install offensive schemes and defensive schemes, I wanted president Ransdell to install everything that’s unique about Western Kentucky to this new staff.
“I wanted him to install those new concepts, those new ideals, what the mission statement of the university is. But I also wanted him to install the different traditions. I remember when I was recruiting for Western Kentucky back in 2010, I used to love sitting in a living room or at the dining table with the family and telling them everything unique about our mascot, our team logo with the towel, and then certainly being the Hilltoppers, and explain all three of those things.
“It’s unique. And it’s unique as to who we are as a university, it’s unique to Western Kentucky. We’re not gonna apologize for that.”
Sanford’s staff is a funky mix of old and new, of experience and freshness, of the South and Midwest and West Coast – and they have plenty of, "juuuuuuice!" He brought them in for a team dinner Wednesday at Steamer Seafood in downtown Bowling Green to unofficially get started on the group’s debut album – released this fall – entitled The Pursuit 17.
And at the program’s first official staff meeting Thursday, he not only preached about how he wanted his band to perform on the field, but how he wanted them to conduct themselves away from it. And you can’t sing the directive of off-the-field productivity if you don’t exemplify it yourself.
“We talked about it as our five goals – on of ‘em was to serve the community relentlessly,” Sanford said. “Well, how are we gonna ask that out of our players if our coaching staff and myself isn’t gonna embody that? I feel like these men are all men that are really looking forward to getting out in the community here, to have a chance to break bread in this community, and feel a part of it so quickly and that has been very good.”
As jammin’ Sanford and the nine Tops close the garage door to begin rehearsals for their 2017 debut, the lead singer, a man of his convictions, insists those who attend this fall’s stadium tour will come away impressed with what they witness. The new sound of Western Kentucky football is coming.
“It’s not about what you did yesterday. It’s about what you do today and that leads to what you’ll do tomorrow," Sanford sang. "That’s what we’re gonna really be preaching.”
Predictions sure to be wrong
Western’s loss to Old Dominion on Saturday resurrected the crazies on social media, those who suggested Rick Stansbury needs to be fired and the current roster of Hilltoppers simply don’t care any more. Those types conveniently forgot about the five-game winning streak and 3-0 start in Conference USA play that preceded Saturday.
Granted, that was not a game the Tops should have lost, up 11 in the second half while playing pretty solid ball. But there’s no reason to detonate the panic bomb, friends.
The road, unfortunately for Western, only gets tougher as WKU faces three teams with a combined record of 33-16 and 9-1 in league play over the next two weeks. Yikes.
Going to be harsh here and pick UAB and Middle Tennessee to each beat the Hilltoppers this week. And that’s not so much a knock on WKU as it is a nod to a pair of quality CUSA teams.
The national championship
I’m not sure I’ve seen a more dominant defense that the 2016 Alabama football team. Perhaps that’s a bit hyperbolic, or maybe just an observation from inside a vacuum, but man is it tough to find open green against the Crimson Tide’s defenders.
Now, I do think Clemson will have some offensive success Monday – relatively speaking. But I don’t think the Tigers will be able to do it often enough to pull off the upset.
Give me Alabama, 31-17.
Record to date: 32-23.
Quote of the week
Western Kentucky safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Jami DeBerry on the recent success of Hilltopper football: “That’s been awesome, to see this place grow. It’s great because that’s what this area and this community needs. It’s good to be a part of it.”
Musical pick of the week
Forty years ago this week, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody ended a nine-week run at No. 1 on the United Kingdom's singles chart:
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop