When Stanford and Washington kick things off Saturday afternoon, Mike Sanford will be nearly 1,400 miles away in Colorado Springs. Boise State’s new offensive coordinator will be going through the Broncos’ final preparations for their game with Air Force, but there’ll also be a part of him wondering what’s going on in Seattle.
Without the two head coaches opposing each other at Husky Stadium -- Stanford’s David Shaw and Washington’s Chris Petersen -- Sanford wouldn’t be where he is today. Not from a philosophical coaching standpoint, nor from a literal one.
As Stanford’s quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator last year, Sanford was preparing for the Rose Bowl when it was announced that Steve Sarkisian was leaving Washington to return to USC. The potential domino effect immediately piqued his interest.
“I always thought that Coach Pete would be a good fit [at Washington],” said Sanford, a former Boise State quarterback who had Petersen as a position coach for four years. “And if he went to Washington that probably meant there would be a whole new staff at Boise State.”
Since spending time as a graduate assistant at UNLV in 2005-06 under his father, Mike Sanford Sr., Sanford made it abundantly clear to those he worked with that he could eventually return to Boise. Until being hired onto David Shaw’s first staff at Stanford in 2011, he made every attempt to make that happen.
“Anytime [Petersen] had an assistant coach opening on staff, he knew he could expect a text or a phone call from me,” Sanford joked this week. “Him and Coach Shaw both received plenty of text messages from me over the years about jobs.”
However, it wasn’t until Petersen officially left Boise and was replaced by Bryan Harsin, also a former Boise State quarterback, did Sanford see a real possibility for a return. Nearly a year earlier, on Christmas Day 2012, shortly after he accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State, Harsin reached out to Sanford about becoming the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator.
“I really thought about it, but I didn’t want to leave Stanford after just two years,” Sanford said. “'At some point,’ I told him, ‘I think this might happen for me to work with you.’ Sure enough, when he got hired at Boise State, I texted him and asked if had time to talk.”
Harsin didn’t need any convincing. Sanford, widely considered one of the brightest young coaches and recruiters in the country, was a big coup for the first post-Petersen staff at Boise State.
But before he pursued it fully, Sanford first went to Shaw.
“I was really quite nervous having that conversation with Coach Shaw about this job,” he said. “I went in there asking him for advice, more so than saying, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I asked him what he’d do in my situation and he was great.
“He told me, ‘There’s nothing like coaching at your alma mater, if anyone knows that, it’s me. You got to take this job; it’s a great opportunity for you. You love that place.'”
That sealed it.
“Mike was really instrumental in our success here,” Shaw said. “And if there was one place he loved as much or maybe slightly more than Palo Alto, it was Boise. Being a Boise State alum ... he and his wife always loved it there. They talked about retiring there and that’s where they wanted to live and raise their children. So when the opportunity came up for him, it was too good to pass up.”
Support like that part of why Sanford credits Shaw as one of the three most influential coaches he’s ever been around, with the other two being his father, who is now the head coach at Indiana State, and Petersen.
"Playing for Coach Petersen I just respected everything about him as a coach," Sanford said. "The biggest thing about him was the unbelievable standard he had for himself, the offense, the quarterback position. You wanted to strive, strive, strive to put forth a performance that what worthy of meeting the standard he set out there."
For Petersen, Sanford’s rise in the coaching ranks has come as no surprise.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching his career progress and climb and all of that and I had no doubt that he would do some good things and get to where he wanted to be one day,” Petersen said. “Once he got through the process of playing and all those things and sat down and figured out what he wanted to do, he put his sights on the bullseye and was charging hard.”
And thanks to an assist from Petersen, he's back where he wanted to be.