After the Dec. 17 news conference announcing, Sanders flew from Johnson City back to Tallahassee, Florida, where he got to work with Florida State in its preparations for the Independence Bowl, a game the Seminoles won 42-13 over Southern Miss.
In between, ETSU added four players during the early signing period and Sanders began to put together a coaching staff.
Now that the Seminoles’ season is over, Sanders has turned his full attention toward his new job.
ETSU’s newest coach sat down long enough to catch his breath and answer a few questions in a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday.
Q: What do you expect to accomplish at ETSU?
A: There’s short term and long term. Short term, I have to get a staff together and get to know the guys we have. I have to get an offseason program in place. We have plenty to do. I had an equipment guy talking about what he’s ordered for us to wear on the sidelines. Those are all new things for me. Those are minor details, but they still take time and need attention.
Long term, we’re trying to get the best roster we can, because it doesn’t matter how good a coach someone is, the good players are going to get better results. We’re also trying to maintain some of the guys we have right now. Sometimes the best recruits you have are some of the guys you have that may be thinking about leaving.
Q: You haven’t coached on the FCS level. Is there a learning curve in recruiting or coaching on that level as opposed to working with Florida State-type athletes?
A: I think once you get on the field, football is football. It doesn’t matter if it’s Florida State or ETSU or Science Hill High School. The team that blocks the best, tackles the best, doesn’t turn the ball over is going to win. The learning curve comes up with managing scholarship numbers.
I’ve been fortunate. I was at the University of Tennessee, University of Kentucky and Florida State University. If you needed something, you got it — within reason. If you needed cleats, you just got new cleats. If you needed a whole new set of uniforms in the middle of the season, you got it. That’s where the learning curve is going to kick in for me. I know I don’t have all the answers. I’m trying to surround myself with people that have those answers.
Q: That leads to the next question. Having never been a head coach, what are some of the biggest challenges you expect to find?
A: Ask me again this time next year and I’ll have a much better answer. The game day stuff, I think that part will be easy. Where do your dollars go? That’s the reason raising those dollars is so critical because we’re still in the process of building this thing. We have a beautiful stadium, but it doesn’t seat a hundred-thousand, so we don’t have that revenue source.
Q: In your news conference, you mentioned Phillip Fulmer asking if you were interested in the ETSU job when they brought the program back. What role did he play in you getting the job this time around?
A: You’d have to ask Scott (Carter) or Dr. Noland. I knew Coach Fulmer had connections here, so when I heard that Coach Torbush had resigned, I reached out to Coach Fulmer and said if he knew someone up there to get word to them that I would be interested in the job. He contacted me a little later on and told me he had reached out and given them my name. Beyond that, I never asked him for a whole lot of help. I certainly would have if I thought I would need it, but it all happened kind of fast. He’s got some stroke in this state.
Q: When Steve Forbes came in as basketball coach here he won the Southern Conference in his second year. I know football is an entirely different animal — he’s got 15 guys, you’ve got 100 — but when is it realistic for you to start competing for championships?
A: We’re wanting to do it right away. Now how realistic that is, I can’t tell you right now because I haven’t been on the practice field with these guys yet. We want to be in that mix for the championship. That’s our goal. We want to do it as quickly as we can, but at the same time, we’ve only been playing ball here for a few years. It’s still a building process.
Q: How hectic have the past two weeks been for you?
A: It’s always a busy time of year if you’re coaching. If you’re coaching at two different schools and trying to wear two hats, it makes it even more hectic. Plus you throw in the early signing date, that makes it even crazier. There’s been plenty to do.
Q: You mentioned the early signing date. Were you happy with your team’s new recruits?
A: I was excited about the four guys we signed. I thought they were four really good football players. I think they’re four good young men. A couple of them I didn’t know much about, but that’s a tribute to what the staff here has done. Fortunately we were able to go ahead and get these four guys on board and I’m excited what they can bring.
Q: ETSU’s previous staff was on the road recruiting on the Friday before you were announced as the head coach on Sunday. Is that common for coaches to keep recruiting even though the head coach is leaving?
A: Jimbo Fisher had left Florida State and I was still out recruiting when I got the call from Scott Carter. As long as you’re still under contract with the university, you kind of do what the university says.
Q: Have you gotten a chance to look at film to see what you’ll have to work with at ETSU?
A: I’ve looked at some just to familiarize myself with what we have, just to get a better feel for some of the holes we will try to plug in recruiting. I don’t know exactly who’s who. I know them by face and I know them by numbers. Now I have to get to know them as people.
Q: What did you think of Austin Herink’s performance at quarterback?
A: I’ve seen some games where the offense was productive and I’ve seen some where the offense wasn’t productive. The quarterback is very dependent on those other guys who are out there with them. Austin is a good player, no question about that, and he had some good players around him. But we have to continue getting good players at every position. Nothing will make Austin better than competition. He needs competition at the quarterback position. We need competition on the offensive line, at wide receiver, at running back. When you have to compete to keep your job, usually you get better.
Q: With your background as a quarterbacks coach and the top-notch players you worked with, how does that translate into helping these guys?
A: Hopefully it gives what I say a little credibility. But at the same time, I earn my credibility, I earn my stripes, by what we do on the practice field and what they do on the game field. What Jameis (Winston) did or what Andre’ Woodson or Mike Hartline or Tee Martin or anybody else did doesn’t really matter at this point. It’s what we get these guys to do.
Q: OK, now on to the lighter side of the interview. What music do you listen to?
A: I’m a classic rock guy.
Q: Favorite movie? And don’t say game film.
A: Probably, Outlaw Josie Wales.
Q: Favorite food?
A: I love steak, cheeseburgers, pizza and fried fish. That’s four favorite foods.