TERRE HAUTE —
Perhaps the most important conversation new Indiana State football coach Mike Sanford had on Monday wasn’t with the administration, the alumni and the assembled media at his introductory press conference, but a talk that came after it.
Among the players who attended the press conference was running back Shakir Bell. Sanford, who had his first meeting with the players after the conclusion of the presser, made a point to talk to Bell for several minutes to meet his star running back.
Bell, a senior-to-be who has 3,794 career rushing yards at ISU, is eligible to declare for the NFL Draft. Or, like any other player, he could transfer to another school.
One man doesn’t make a team, but Bell is pretty important to ISU’s fortunes in the near-future. The Indianapolis native had kind things to say about Sanford.
“He’s definitely a great coach. I watched the bowl game against Toledo. Their offense was hammering away. We’re going to look forward to working with him. He looked like he’s going to be a great fit,” Bell said.
Bell and Sanford had a friendly discussion, and exchanged laughter at times, but Bell also kept his options open for the future.
“It’s all up in the air right now. I have a year left. I’m having a great time here and I’m ready to see this program go to the next level,” Bell said. “There’s things going on where I have rethink my situation, but I’m here for now. I helped build this program. I have my hand in it and I’m not wanting to see it go down in any time of way. We’re going to get ready for a great season and embrace our new coach.”
Any time a coach takes over a program there’s the dynamic of convincing the players left behind by the previous coach to get on board with his way of doing things. In Sanford’s case, this is even more acute. Not only did Miles recruits every single one of the current Sycamores, but he developed an esprit-de-corps that they were all in it together to build ISU’s program out of the rubble it had once been.
Sanford understands this and acknowledges the legacy Miles has.
“I think the first thing is to congratulate and give Trent a lot of credit. It’s not like I’m coming in and saying everyone’s no good and I’m coming in to change everything. This thing is built because of what Trent did. I’m going to build on that. I welcome the fact that this thing has been built,” Sanford said.
ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman said that one of the most attractive things about Sanford was his ability to build on what’s already been done with the Sycamores’ program.
“The players and Trent built this to where it is. He has no desire to break down that tradition. He wants to give the players and Trent credit, but he’s got some things that we haven’t done yet that he brings to the table,” Prettyman said. “He has some new talents that haven’t been exposed to this program. He wants to make it stronger and better. He wants to capitalize on what Trent did, but he wants to do an even better job as he brings it further along.”
Sanford reiterated that point.
“The challenge is to take it to the next step. That’s on all of us together. I’m the leader, but we’re in this together. We’re appreciative of the past, and thankful for where we are, but to set the expectation to surpass that,” Sanford said.
With ISU on winter break, there was just a handful of players present. But some of them were impressed with what they heard from Sanford.
“I’m very excited. We’re all eager. I was just telling [quarterback] Mike Perish that we’re ready to roll,” ISU center FN Lutz said. “I’m excited about his plan. I like his aggressive style. I like that we’ll run the ball first. We’ll be smashmouth, but we’ll throw it. We have guys to exploit it, [whom] he’ll form his offense around. He’ll use our greatness for his.”
Sanford having to overcome loyalty to Miles was not seen as a hurdle the new coach can’t clear.
“I think we’ve come together. We’re a close-knit team. Everyone understands this happens in college football. As long as we’re focused on getting better, we’ll be fine,” Perish said. “It seems like he has great experience and that’s a plus. He was very well-spoken today. I was impressed by his speech. As players, I think we’re all excited for him.”
Part of the bond Sanford builds with the Sycamores will hinge on who is hired to his coaching staff. Sanford has already made exploratory inquiries about coaches. He wants to have a full staff in place by early to mid-January, when football recruiting goes into its home stretch.
“The good thing is it’s a dead period right now. I want to get things going when it’s live again. I want to have some coaches on Jan. 4 when it’s live again. There’s another dead period because of the [coaches’] convention, and I’ll be talking to people there, but I want to hit it hard those last three weeks,” Sanford said.
To see video of Monday’s press conference go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWp0H7zBYN8