TERRE HAUTE —
With close to six decades of combined NCAA football coaching experience, new Indiana State head coach Mike Sanford and his defensive coordinator and associate head coach, Brian Cabral, foresee a smooth transition from the previous coaching staff.
Cabral had spent the past 24 years at the University of Colorado. The former Chicago Bear linebacker spent most of the time as linebackers coach while spending time as an associate head coach. He worked under five different head coaches, so he has a good understanding of the transition process.
“I want to pick up where [coach Trent Miles’ staff] left off. That’s going to be the trick, to pick up where they left off,” Cabral said. “To see where [the players] are, what they know. Try not to upset things a great deal. It’s going to be interesting to be able to blend where they are and what they know and what they can do, with how to move them forward.”
Cabral inherits a defense that ranked fifth in the Football Championship Subdivision rankings in yards allowed. But the Sycamores will graduate 2012 All-American cornerback Johnny Towalid and 2011 All-American defensive end Ben Obaseki.
“The program is in a very good place right now,” Cabral said. “We feel like we have great responsibility to these guys to take them a step farther. Everything you want in a team, they’re there. … It’s up to us to help them take that next step.”
Sanford is thrilled to have Cabral on board.
“I’m very excited to have Brian Cabral, No. 1 because of what type of person he is,” Sanford said. “He’s great with relationships with players and having the ability to get the most out of players. His background of some NFL experience, being part of that Chicago Bear defense with Buddy Ryan and he played on a national championship team at CU.
“I’m excited about what he’s going to bring. Also the knowledge and wisdom and the ability to get players to play hard, that’s a lot about what defense is.”
Sanford said that Cabral was one of the first couple people he called after being hired by Indiana State — the first being running back Shakir Bell, who had said he was mulling the possibility of leaving school a year early for the NFL.
“To me, that was priority No. 1, to recruit the players that are here,” Sanford said. “He’s arguably the best running back in FCS football. I wanted to make sure he was coming back.”
With that taken care of, Sanford turned his attention to recruiting — both a coaching staff and some new players. He said he recently completed his staff and hopes to announce a recruiting class of more than 20 players on Wednesday in Hulman Center prior to the men’s basketball game.
The focus of his recruiting will be on wide receiver and linebacker, said Sanford, who was also happy to gain commitments from several players that the previous coaching staff had offered scholarships to.
The next piece of business will be preparing for spring football, a crucial time for a program transitioning coaching staffs.
Sanford will serve as offensive coordinator to start out. He spent time in that role at Utah under Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
“I want to move toward a more spread offense, but I want to take advantage of the talent we have,” Sanford said. “We’ve got fullbacks and other guys that give us the capability to line up in some pro-type sets and run the football at people. We can also run the football out of spread sets. We want to create opportunities to set up for wide receivers to make some plays. That’s going to open up things for Shakir.”
Sanford helped Alex Smith develop into a 2004 Heisman Trophy candidate. So what does he think of the Sycamores’ talent at that significant position?
“Mike Perish did a really good job last year. They won seven games last year with him at quarterback. That said, the QB position’s going to be wide open,” Sanford said. “Robert Tonyan is a really good young player who redshirted last year. I think there’s going to be a really good competition with those two this spring.”
Sanford said the spring schedule, which will begin in about six weeks, will be about mastering new terminology so that the Sycamores can avoid haphazard mistakes that can derail an offense.
“That’s a huge thing in the first year is to be efficient, understand the system and understand the snap count,” Sanford said. “Not have mistakes before the ball is snapped. We’re going to want to do some things with tempo offense. We’ll want to get that in this spring, having a system where you can huddle and go no-huddle.”
While Sanford is new to the FCS football scene, he got a glimpse when watching Missouri Valley Football Conference foe North Dakota State take the national title a couple days after he was hired.
“When I watched that, one thing I noticed was they ended up 14-1, and the one loss was to Indiana State. That shows we have the capability to play at that level. As long as we approach it like we still have work to do, we have players hungry to get there,” Sanford said.