Vols' Tyson Helton in frame to replace Mike Sanford as WKU coach

Western Kentucky fired coach Mike Sanford on Sunday after only two seasons.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Tyson Helton has emerged as a top candidate to replace Sanford as the Hilltoppers' head coach, sources told ESPN.

Sanford, 36, went 9-16 at Western Kentucky after previously serving as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

He went 6-7 in his first year with a Cure Bowl appearance but slipped to 3-9 this fall. Western Kentucky won its final two games, including its first-ever win at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, but that couldn't save Sanford's job.

"His commitment to bettering the lives of our student-athletes is unquestioned," athletic director Todd Stewart said in a prepared statement. "However, based on a complete review of the total body of work of our program over the last two years and assessing the likelihood of meeting our future expectations, I felt it was time that we make a change in leadership. This was not an easy decision and was not made lightly."

Sanford succeeded Jeff Brohm, who guided Western Kentucky to a 30-10 record and two Conference USA championships in three years. Sanford had served as Western Kentucky's quarterbacks coach in 2010.

Helton, 41, just finished his first season as Tennessee's offensive play-caller and quarterbacks coach under Jeremy Pruitt. Helton, the younger brother of USC head coach Clay Helton, was previously on the USC staff before joining Pruitt on the Vols' staff.

Helton spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons at Western Kentucky as the Hilltoppers' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.