Mike Sanford said he will be feeling “some mixed emotions” when he takes the field for warm-ups Saturday night (5 p.m., ESPN3) at Romney Stadium in Logan, Utah.
Sanford, now the assistant head coach at Utah State (3-1) who coaches running backs and tight ends, will be facing a UNLV squad that he was head coach of for five years from 2005-09, compiling a 16-43 record.
“On one hand it will be nice to see some (UNLV) players and people I know again,” Sanford said. “On the other hand, I really like the situation I’m in now here at Utah State.”
Starting wide receiver Marcus Sullivan, running back Bradley Randle, wide receiver Caleb Herring, starting offensive linemen Yusef Rodgers and Doug Zismann and starting corner Sidney Hodge are among the key players on the current UNLV (1-3) team that Sanford and his staff recruited.
Sanford was fired after back-to-back five win seasons and made it clear he wasn’t happy with the way UNLV President Neal Smatresk handled the situation, using then acting AD Jerry Koloskie as a go-between to let him know of his firing. He also left a sour taste in the mouths of some boosters with a long going-away news conference that saw complain about some of the school’s facilities, including locker and weight rooms that have since been upgraded.
But he holds no ill will against the man Smatresk eventually hired to replace him … Bobby Hauck.
“I have a lot of respect for him and his body of work over the years,” Sanford said. “He and I are friends and will continue to be.”
Sanford, who had a brief stay as offensive coordinator at Louisville where he helped recruit a pretty fair quarterback named Teddy Bridgewater, said he is happy to be back on the west coast again. He and wife Melinda still own a house in Park City, and he has plenty of good memories from his first coaching stint in the state as offensive coordinator on Urban Meyer’s Utah staff. The Utes went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl in his final season (2004) there and the quarterback he helped coach, Alex Smith, went on to become the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Current Utah State Gary Andersen was also on that coaching staff.
“I enjoy working with Gary and I like the kids on our team,” Sanford said. “I tried to hire Gary as my defensive coordinator at UNLV but Kyle (Whittingham) came in and gave him the defensive coordinator position at Utah.
“There is great community support for the program here and they’ve added some nice facilities since the last time UNLV played here (and won 23-16 under Sanford in 2007). There really are a lot of positive things going on up here.”
UNLV hasn’t won a road game since a 34-17 victory at New Mexico on Oct. 24, 2009 — an almost three-year long streak that covers 16 games.
With four of their next five games away from Sam Boyd Stadium starting Saturday at Utah State, the Rebels will get plenty of chances in the next month to put that losing streak to bed.
“My take on that is if you’re good enough, you’ll win — home or road,” Hauck said. “So if we’re good enough and we play well enough, we’ll win. There’s really no rhyme or reason why you would not play well on the road. Good teams win on the road.”
Utah State has outscored the opposition, 51-0, in the first quarter this year and has allowed just one first half touchdown. So surviving the first 30 minutes will be important for the Rebels, especially freshman quarterback Nick Sherry making his first road start.
UNLV has been outscored, 63-54, in the first half so far this season.
— Steve Guiremand/MyLvSports.com