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Colorado’s interim head coach has this connection to Utah football program

In Mike Sanford’s debut, Colorado knocked off California in overtime in Boulder. Since then, the Buffs have dropped five consecutive games

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Colorado head coach Mike Sanford during game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Boulder, Colo.

Colorado interim head coach Mike Sanford looks on during game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. Sanford’s dad, Mike Sr., was Utah’s offensive coordinator during Urban Meyer’s run in Utah.

David Zalubowski, Associated Press

It’s been another season of upheaval for Colorado.

Coach Karl Dorrell was fired five games into the season after the Buffaloes began 0-5. 

That’s when Mike Sanford Jr. was promoted from offensive coordinator to interim head coach. 

And in Sanford’s debut, Colorado knocked off California 20-13 in overtime in Boulder and fans stormed the field. 

But since then, the Buffs (1-10, 1-7) have dropped five consecutive games, including a 54-7 drubbing at the hands of No. 13 Washington Saturday. 

In its regular-season finale, Colorado hosts No. 14 Utah Saturday (2 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network). 

Sanford arrived at Colorado during the offseason from Minnesota, where he spent the previous two seasons as the offensive coordinator. Sanford has also served as the offensive coordinator at Utah State.

Almost 20 years ago, Sanford’s dad, Mike Sanford Sr., was Utah’s offensive coordinator — from 2003-2004 — under head coach Urban Meyer. The Utes posted a 22-2 record in those two seasons, including a win in the Fiesta Bowl.

How well does Utah coach Kyle Whittingham know Mike Sanford Jr.?

“I do know him. I know his dad very well,” he said. “Mike Jr. was around quite a bit when Mike Sr. was here. He’s a good, young football coach. He’s a guy that really has a bright future. He has a really good grasp of offensive football.”

Currently, Colorado is conducting a search for a new head football coach, making Sanford’s future with the Buffaloes uncertain. 

This week, 247Sports.com reported that Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders is talking to both Colorado and South Florida about their job openings. 

Other rumored candidates to take over the program include former Virginia and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. In 2012, when he was at the helm of BYU, he was regarded as a head coaching candidate at Colorado. 

Other potential candidates include former Texas and Houston coach Tom Herman and former TCU coach Gary Patterson. 

Sanford said he’s focused on the present, not the future, when it comes to dealing with the situation. 

“We’re living in the present, we’re making everything about the players,” Sanford told reporters. “But obviously, you get down toward the end of it and all of a sudden, it’s obviously very clear that we’re not in the postseason — there’s no bowl opportunities — and you have to really wake up every day and even as a staff, even myself as the head coach, you’ve got to really stay truly in the present.”

Sanford signed a three-year contract at Colorado last December. But he could be unemployed soon, along with the rest of the staff. 

Sanford said it’s hard not worrying about the future and how decisions could affect their families. 

“They’re scared about the future and we have to be great fathers and great husbands first and foremost,” he said. “But we also have a job that we’re tasked with doing and that’s ultimately to come to work every day, just continue to find the joy in the work we do.”

Meanwhile, a few of his players have publicly made it known that they want Sanford to return, a gesture that Sanford appreciates. 

Reality is, his team is struggling mightily. Against Washington, Colorado fell behind 33–0 at halftime after making numerous miscues. 

“I would call (the end of the first half) the rock bottom with regards to the emotional toll that losing and honestly, just I think, sense of embarrassment,” Sanford said. “I think a lot of these players are going through a lot of hard times. Not just this year. … I think it’s one winning season in 15 years. There’s a lot of toll that that takes on players and the one thing that I think that they crave, obviously, is when they feel like they have people that are in their lives on a daily basis. I think they want that continuity, but we all know it’s a business, too.”

In 2013, Mike MacIntyre was hired and stayed for six seasons. He led the Buffs to a Pac-12 South Division title in 2016. 

MacIntyre was replaced in 2019 by Mel Tucker, who stayed for just one season, a 5-7 campaign, before taking the job at Michigan State. 

Dorrell was hired to replace Tucker in 2020 and he posted an 8-15 record before he was ousted.

What happens next for Colorado football?

All that is known for now is that the Buffaloes will put an end to their miserable 2022 season Saturday at Folsom Field. 

Utes on the air

No. 14 Utah (8-3, 6-2)

at Colorado (1-7, 1-10)

Saturday, 2 p.m. MST

Folsom Field 

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 700