Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford joined 93.9 FM in Louisville on Thursday to discuss his football program.
Some highlights from the the conversation are below as well as the link to listen to the full interview:
ON THE 2017 SEASON
"I think to make it to a bowl game and hit that benchmark of being bowl-eligible, obviously that was important for us to keep that going and for us to actually play in the bowl game itself.
"The season itself was disappointing, it was below our standards, below my standards for this program. I think we had a lot of pieces that we had to bring together and work through some adversity and grew a lot as a program.
"There was a moment in the season where we were 5-2. FAU had just beaten the University of North Texas who ended up winning the West Division side of the Conference USA and FAU had beaten 69-17 or something along those lines in the regular season. We had FAU coming to our place, we were 5-2, we were playing good football, we were getting healthy at that point and we had the lead going in the fourth quarter going in to potentially make it a two-possession game, I think it was gonna be a 15-point lead for us, and then we turn the football over. That was a little bit of a turning point for the season.
"Injuries kind of started to mount. For us to finish out 6-7 after being 5-2, really having a chance to be 6-2 and be in pole position in the Conference USA standings, it was disappointing to finish the way we did, I thought we had to really dig deep. We had some stuff that happened from an injury standpoint – I think we ended up having about 24 surgeries during the season or postseason.
"There was a lot of challenges but we got a lot of young guys experience. I feel like it's prepared us both in recruiting and just overall roster-wise just going forward into this next year and beyond."
ON BEING A FIRST-TIME HEAD COACH
"Having a father that's been a head coach at two different Division I programs over the course of nine years, I feel like I was pretty prepared for the what – what to expect, what it was gonna be like. What I wasn't probably prepared for is some of the actual content that would come across my desk. It just never ceases to amaze you. At the end of the day you're dealing with 110 18-22 year-old young men that are figuring out life in a college town.
"We really do care about those young men and their development, not only as players but as people. By really throwing yourself into that, you end up spending a lot of time dealing with some stuff you never in a million years thought you would have ever dealt with from a football coach's perspective.
"But it's worth it. That's one thing I think about it, all that's worth it. We have an opportunity to make a positive impact on a young man and I think if they're in a better place in life they're gonna be in a better place on the football field as well."
WHY WESTERN KENTUCKY?
"My experience here in 2010 with Willie Taggart. I was with him at Stanford '07 and '08. Left to go to my first full-time coaching job at Yale University. Willie called me and offered me the opportunity to be the quarterback coach and passing game coordinator and install the Stanford offense.
"One thing that I came away from that experience with Willie and being at Western is this is a great place to recruit. Phenomenal place to recruit to. Within a six-hour drive of where we're located, there is so much talent. And a lot of talent that I truly believe is not always uncovered in some rural parts of south Alabama and south Georgia and Tennessee and even here in the state of Kentucky.
"This program, and the success that it's always had, has come through recruiting. That's where Willie really primed this job to be in an incredible position when he did leave because of the talent that was left behind. That's why I'm really excited about what we're doing right now."
ON THE QUARTERBACK POSITION
"One thing that I do know is I like that room a lot. I'm in that room now. I had a chance over the course of the season and the postseason to kind of shuffle up the offensive staff a little bit. That's an area that I felt like I wasn't giving enough of, of myself, was to the quarterback room, to actually be in there and coach it and to install our offense the way I wanted it installed and coach the position, develop the position fundamentally the way I want it to be run. I think that's been a big part of what we've done.
"What I would say about this group is – this is gonna sound crazy – but top to bottom and even what we have coming in that's committed, I feel like this is as talented of a group of quarterbacks that I've been around. We're long, we got three players that are 6-3 or above, we're athletic, there's not one player in that room that isn't capable of giving you at least three first downs a game with their legs and they all can make the throws.
"I'm excited. We're prepped for a pretty great run with great quarterback play which has always been consistent with Western Kentucky."
BIGGEST COACHING INFLUENCE
"The biggest coaching influence was my college coach, my position coach in college, was Chris Petersen – I was incredibly fortunate and a lot of the reason I feel like I'm in coaching and was prepared to do so."
"When I was recruited, Dirk Koetter was the head coach that was in the quarterback room every day, kind of like I'm wanting to do this year, but then he had a 26-year-old, young quarterback coach that was in the room, kind of the caretaker of the group, and he was was Mark Helfrich who's a pretty unbelievable coach himself.
"In comes this young wide receiver coach that played the quarterback position at UC Davis and his name was Chris Petersen. I was with him for four of my five years there. There's nobody I've learned the game more from then Chris Petersen. There's nobody that I've learned about having a high standard for the way you live your life and the way that you conduct yourself then Chris Petersen. And also just his intellect for the game. His intellect for defense and training the quarterback. Very impactful for me as a very young man and to this day I still draw on that 20 years later."
ON HAVING SO MANY COACHING INFLUENCES
"In this profession you're really fortunate to be around really good people. And what I've tried to do is realize that I'm nowhere near the smartest guy in the room or the best coach in every room that I go into. I just try to pick people's brains and learn and go to school – especially as a really young coach that's just what I did.
"And I continue to do that. Just humble yourself to the point where you don't think you have all the answers because once they put the head coach title in front of you, I think a lot of us tend to think that we do have all the answers.
"I need to keep learning and keep exposing myself to some of my mentors and also learn from new ones."
ON STARTING VS. WISCONSIN AGAINST STARTING VS. A LESSER OPPONENT
"I think either way you're getting ready for a 12-game regular season and hopefully a conference championship and hopefully a bowl game. Your process has to be for the long haul of the season, the duration of the season.
"However, when you do have such an incredible prize for a program like Western Kentucky immediately staring you down in your opener, opening at Wisconsin, then quite frankly, certainly on our minds, is playing Week Three in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. That's a huge one for a lot of players on our team and obviously our fanbase and our coaching staff.
"But opening up with two teams that were top-10 teams last year in two of our first three games – I like it. I do. It's gonna help us kind of know where we stand. We got a young football team. There's not a lot of promises being made. I've seen that we're picked pretty low in our conference. We're just about the work right now. Just go to work and prepare for the season and give it everything we got when we play against those teams that are more established like Wisconsin and certainly Louisville has a lot of pieces returning as well."
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop