John Sanders said, “Once a Sabercat, always a Sabercat,” on Monday after he signed a coaching contract to lead the San Tan Foothills High School Sabercats football program.
Sanders led the Saguaro Sabercats to four state football championships in five years, before he was fired in January 2012. No reason was given for the firing by the school and the Scottsdale Unified School District then, but he was criticized by alumni and the community for sitting almost all of his starters, including running back D.J. Foster, in the regular-season finale against Scottsdale Chaparral that was a regionally televised game on Fox Sports.
After the 65-0 loss, Saguaro rolled to its fourth state title in Division III in the five years Sanders led the program.
The outspoken, confident Sanders always has done things his way. Nobody could deny he was one of the state’s best motivators during his championship run at Saguaro, where he led the Sabercats to a 62-7 record, including a 32-0 start, in his five years.
During his first meeting Monday with his new Sabercats, Sanders said he passed around his state championship ring that had the Sabercat logo on it to the San Tan Foothills players.
“I’m fired up,” Sanders said. “I’m champing at the bit.”
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The key will be getting players back out to the program after Rodger Schenks left in April. He led San Tan Foothills to a 32-22 record in five seasons and then became the head coach at the new American Leadership Academy in the East Valley.
Another coach was in place but he left, Sanders said. Sanders said some of the players felt abandoned, so it is important right now for him to win them back.
Sanders is embracing this opportunity like he did at Saguaro, when he replaced Mike Reardon in 2007.
Sanders said he was close to leaving for Europe to coach in Amsterdam, before being asked to interview at San Tan Valley last week. He said Gilbert Mesquite coach Jim Jones recommended him.
“After the interview, I was in my truck driving down the road when they called me back,” Sanders said. “They said, ‘We’re not going to let you go. We want you as our coach.’ ”
Like he was at Saguaro, where he led the Sabercats to consecutive 14-0 championship seasons in his first two years leading the program, Sanders said he won’t be satisfied with just eight-win seasons.
“I’m here to win championships,” Sanders said.
After Foster was azcentral sports’ Big Schools Football Player of the Year in 2011, Sanders followed Foster to Arizona State, where he took a job in football operations.
Last year, Sanders helped coach the secondary at Gilbert Williams Fields, which lost its only two games last season to Saguaro, including the Division III championship game.
Saguaro and Williams Field both have moved up to Division II.
San Tan will be playing in Division V this season.
Sanders said he enjoyed the year helping out at Williams Field, but it reminded him how much he missed calling the shots, having his own program.