The latest job opening at Vanderbilt University hasn't been posted yet, but it should be a pretty simple title on the school's website: Offensive Coordinator, Commodore Football. Head coach Derek Mason cut his former OC Karl Dorrell loose on Wednesday, leaving a vacant office available for the man Vandy fans hope will bring this team's scoring to the executive level.
Will that man be Boise State's Mike Sanford Jr.? Sanford is currently finishing up his first year as the Broncos' OC and has had tremendous success in his maiden season as a coordinator. His team is currently 10-2 and on the brink of a second Mountain West Conference Championship, pending a victory over Fresno State on Saturday. A title win there would almost certainly send BSU to a bowl game of the Fiesta caliber or better.
The catalyst behind this two (or possibly more) win improvement? Sanford's aggressive offense. They're currently ranked in the top 10 amongst FBS programs in terms of both scoring and total yards, and while their level of competition has wavered, they've scored 34 points or more in their 10 wins. For comparison, Vandy scored 34 or more only three times this season.
Here's how Boise looked in 2013 compared to their 2014 team. The Broncos are putting up more than 36 additional yards per game and scoring an extra 3.3 points per contest as a result:
One year of data doesn't denote a long-term trend, but the excitement over Sanford began before he even called a play on the smurf turf. Here's what SBNation's Boise State blog One Bronco Nation Under God had to say about Sanford when BSU hired him in February of this year:
Beyond all that, Sanford is the epitome of the young, creative, exciting coaches who have run the Boise State offense before. He is a young Chris Petersen and a young Bryan Harsin, and he plans to return the Boise State offense to its roots of big-play, cutting-edge, unstoppable greatness. All that and a bag of chips.
So what's Vanderbilt's "in" with a young coordinator who has quickly become a hot commodity in the NCAA? Like many important members of the Commodore coaching staff, he has ties to Derek Mason. Sanford was on the other side of the ball as Stanford's running backs (2011-12) and quarterbacks/wide receivers coach (2013) while Mason ran (or co-ran) the defense in that same span. That means a lot to Mason. Recent Vanderbilt hires like Dorrell, David Kotoluski (defensive coordinator), Keven Lightner (offensive line coach), and Gerry Gdowski (tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator) all worked with the coach as he rose through the ranks as an assistant. As a result, 247Sports's Barton Simmons has the BSU grad tabbed as Vandy's "expected top target."
Unfortunately, luring Sanford is going to be tough for several reasons. The well regarded coordinator is Boise-bred after playing quarterback for the team from 2000 to 2004. He was in the huddle as the Broncos solidified their ascension from quirky I-AA program to a legitimate top 25 team at the turn of the millennium. On top of that, he's playing for a winning program in Idaho. The Broncos have been to 14 bowl games in school history and are en route to a 15th despite only playing at the D-I level since 1996. Conversely, Vanderbilt has played at the NCAA's highest level since the advent of postseason bowls - of which they have played seven.
If Sanford really is a target, Vanderbilt will have two pillars to sell him on; the prestige and extra media coverage of coaching in the SEC and the possibility that Athletics Director David Williams could drive to Idaho to overturn a dump truck full of jewels in Sanford's driveway. If the university is still committed to James Franklin's vision for Commodore football, Vandy should be able to offer the Boise OC a compensation package that goes beyond just competitive. However, their willingness to break out the checkbook may not be as enthusiastic coming off a 3-9 season rather than a 9-4 one.
Sanford will certainly get a look from the Commodores. However, he's securely embedded in a coaching tree that has traditionally turned successful offensive coordinators into Boise State head coaches and successful Boise State head coaches into highly-paid BCS-conference leaders (see Dan Hawkins, Chris Peterson). He's doing pretty well in the Gem State, and that typically leads to big opportunities. Unless Williams and Mason can make one hell of a pitch, a trip to Nashville may not be the landing spot that a commodity like Mike Sanford Jr. is searching for.