On John Sanders and ‘The Decision’
When I talked to Saguaro football coach John Sanders two weeks ago about the possible backlash from resting his starters against Chaparral, he wasn’t concerned.
“I could care less,” Sanders said then. “I have thick skin. If I started coaching by listening to people, I’d get out of the game. I have no interest in what anyone thinks.”
And that’s true. I’ve covered the program since the first day he took the job, and Sanders has been nothing if not consistent. He’s arrogant, he’s brash and he rubs people the wrong way, but he’s always marched to the beat of his own drum.
And with that, there’s one thing he’s always had: the unwavering support of his team.
Sanders is the ultimate players’ coach. He motivates them, he jokes with them, and he always makes sure it’s a unified front.
He knew this backlash was coming after he did rest his starters against the Firebirds on Friday night, but I think there’s one thing he wasn’t prepared for: the reaction of his own players.
After the game, the Sabercats looked shellshocked. Sanders went to the team huddle and told the team that if he had it to do over again, he would make the same decision.
But I’m not so sure.
Former players and parents in the stands were unhappy, and while Sanders said there was a unanimous agreement inside the locker room with his decision, players are undoubtedly upset today.
Saguaro star D.J. Foster was the only player I talked to last night, and while he repeatedly said he backed Sanders’ decision, he had much less conviction than he did earlier in the week.
“Right when we stepped on the field, the adrenaline started kicking,” Foster said after the game. “Football players want to play football… During the game, the seniors started getting frustrated, saying, ‘Let us go in. Let us go in.’ Coach had made his decision and he said he wasn’t going back on it. We respected his decision and that’s it.”
Every time Sanders did something unconventional in the past, his players and the Saguaro community were quick to back him up. Some of that is still there with this move, but there is definitely a split opinion right now in south Scottsdale.
I’m sure Sanders doesn’t care about all the anonymous attacks he is getting on the internet today, but it’s the possible fracturing around the program that may have him concerned.
To be realistic, this could blow over pretty quickly. The Sabercats are big-time favorites to win the Division III state title even though they dropped to a No. 5 seed, and will start their quest on Friday against Peoria Sunrise Mountain.
“I feel bad for the team that plays us next week,” Foster said.
But for the first time in his tenure at Saguaro, it seems like Sanders’ leadership may be questioned from within.
That alone probably has him reconsidering what went down on Friday night