One of college football's leading offensive minds, Mike Sanford was hired as the ninth head coach in Rebel football history on Dec. 6, 2004.
Charged with reviving a program coming off four straight losing seasons, Sanford, 54, entered his first head coaching position following an outstanding career as one of the top assistants in the nation.
After winning a total of six games in his first three seasons leading the still-undermanned program, the 2008 Rebels finally saw fruits of their labor by coming within one victory of bowl eligibility and having shocked the nation with an upset at No. 13 Arizona State earlier in the campaign. UNLV also set numerous school records on offense last fall, including tying with Ohio State for the national lead in red-zone scoring percentage as well as posting the fewest overall penalty yards in a single season.
At UNLV, Sanford replaced his college coach, John Robinson, who retired after a legendary career that included six seasons with the Rebels.
"I have been preparing for this moment for 27 years as a coach and I am extremely honored and excited to be leading UNLV football," Sanford said when he came aboard. "The UNLV job was one I looked upon with great respect over the years. Because of the way this university and city are emerging, this football program is a gold mine. This is a great community and campus that offer so many opportunities and advantages. This football program is ready to explode."
Before heading to the desert, Sanford had spent the previous two seasons as offensive coordinator at the University of Utah, which went 21-2 overall and 13-1 in the Mountain West Conference during his time in Salt Lake City. In fact, the 2004 Utes finished ranked fourth in the nation and made history by crashing the elite Bowl Championship Series and earning a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
In his two years as Utah's offensive coordinator, Sanford helped instigate one of the biggest offensive turnarounds in the nation while directing an innovative spread offense. Utah, which finished last in the MWC in scoring offense in 2002, ranked third in the nation in `04 at 43.3 points per game and boasted Heisman Trophy finalist Alex Smith, who went on to become the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
A three-decade college and NFL coaching veteran, Sanford went to Utah from Stanford, where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2002.
Most of his coaching career has been spent at the collegiate level, although he spent three years as the receivers coach for the NFL's San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001. His NCAA Division I coaching experience includes stints at Notre Dame, USC, Purdue, Long Beach State, Virginia Military Institute and Army. A California native, Sanford is regarded as one of the top recruiters of the Golden State, which is a key cog in the building of any winning team at UNLV.
Sanford's first coaching position was as a graduate assistant under the man he replaced, Robinson, at Southern California in 1977. His full-time coaching chronology began in 1978 as the defensive coordinator at San Diego City College.
As an assistant coach, Sanford participated in nine bowl games with three programs. As the wide receivers coach at USC from 1989-96, Sanford assisted in two Pac-10 championships and two Rose Bowl victories (vs. Michigan in 1990 and Northwestern in 1996). Three of his Trojan receivers were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft: Curtis Conway in 1992, Johnnie Morton in 1993 and Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft and a consensus All-American in 1995.
As a player, Sanford was a reserve quarterback for USC's 1973 and 1974 Rose Bowl teams (the 1974 team beat Ohio State for the national championship). He played free safety in 1976 when USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and finished second in the nation.
Sanford, born on April 20, 1955, earned his bachelor's degree from USC in 1978. He and his wife, Melinda, have two children: daughter, Lindsay, and son, Mike, who played quarterback at Boise State from 2001-04, and, after two seasons as a graduate assistant for the Rebels, joined the Stanford coaching staff in 2007 and then moved to Yale in 2009.
The Sanfords welcomed their first grandchild, granddaughter Hailey Anne Hanover, in September of 2007.
THE MIKE SANFORD FILE