Following Ciarrocca’s departure, Gophers football names co-offensive coordinators

Wide receivers coach Matt Simon and former Western Kentucky head coach Mike Sanford Jr. will share the duties.

Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck calls out to a referee at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Minnesota holds a 24-17 lead over Auburn heading into the third quarter of the Outback Bowl. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck calls out to a referee at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Minnesota holds a 24-17 lead over Auburn heading into the third quarter of the Outback Bowl. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Paul Hodowanic

Head coach P.J. Fleck and the Minnesota Gophers football team moved swiftly following the departure of former offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca last week, naming current wide receivers coach Matt Simon and former Utah State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. as co-offensive coordinators for the 2020 season, the team announced Friday. 

Simon assumed the play-calling duties for the Outback Bowl in Ciarrocca’s absence, helping guide the Gophers to a 31-24 win in which Minnesota racked up 494 yards of offense against one of the SEC’s premier defenses. 

After the game, Fleck credited Simon on an tremendous called game, and has long praised the coach for his work with a talented group of wide receivers in Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. Simon will continue to coach wide receivers in his new role. 

While Fleck promoted from within the program with Simon, he expressed interest in an outside perspective. That perspective will come from Sanford, 37, who spent last season as the offensive coordinator for Utah State and helped develop its quarterback, Jordan Love, into a potential first round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Prior to his year with Utah State, Sanford was the head coach of Western Kentucky for the 2017-2018 season and has had stops as an offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and Boise State. 

“I am thrilled to welcome Mike, his wife Anne-Marie and kids Peyton, Gunnar and Griffin to Minnesota,” Fleck said in a statement. “I have known Mike for many years, and he will be an elite addition to our staff. Mike is one of the brightest young minds in the game and brings a wealth of experience to our offensive staff room and our offensive system.”

Along with his offensive coordinator duties, Sanford will also coach quarterbacks. 

At this time it remains unknown who will call plays for the Gophers in 2020. Sanford has more experience in the role but Simon is familiar with the program and did well in what was essentially a tryout during the Outback Bowl. 

Whoever is calling the shots will have a lot of star power returning on offense. Quarterback Tanner Morgan returns for his redshirt junior year after setting single-season program records for passing touchdowns (30) and yards (3,253) this season. 

Mohamed Ibrahim will take over the majority of the carries in Minnesota’s backfield. Ibrahim ran for 140 yards and a touchdown against Auburn. 

And while Tyler Johnson won’t return, Morgan will have plenty of talented receivers to throw to, starting with Rashod Bateman. Bateman was named the Big Ten Receiver of the Year this past season and was voted onto the All-Big Ten First Team and the AP All-American Third Team.