Sanders, who won national championships as offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Florida State, was introduced as the university’s 18th football coach Sunday evening at Greene Stadium.
“This man’s a winner,” ETSU Athletic Director Scott Carter said.
This is the first head coaching job for the 52-year-old Morristown native.
“This was a job I wanted,” Sanders said. “You can’t imagine how excited I am to be here. I can’t wait to get to work.”
Sanders will replace Carl Torbush, who helped get the program restarted and went 11-22 in three seasons. Sanders will coach one last time for Florida State in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 27, working for interim head coach Odell Haggins, who took over when Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M.
The new ETSU coach has coached for 29 years after concluding his playing days at Tennessee, where he was a quarterback and a member of the Southeastern Conference’s All-Academic Honor Roll. Twenty-six of those seasons ended with a bowl game.
“Character and integrity,” Carter said. “We talked about that as the pillar of what this program has been built on. That was the No. 1 thing we were looking for. The next thing was someone who was going to bring us championships. A winner.
“This man’s won two national championships. He’s won 12 conference or divisional titles. In 29 years of coaching, he’s been to 26 bowl games. I asked him about Christmas the other night and he said ‘Wherever we go.’ Twenty-six years, Christmas with his family has been in some exotic destination.”
Christmas this year will be spent in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he’ll be coaching against Erik Losey, who spent two seasons as ETSU’s offensive line coach before taking that same position at Southern Miss.
Then it’ll be back to Johnson City where he will get to work. Hiring a staff will be Sanders’ first priority.
Next Sept. 8, Sanders will be on the visiting sideline when the Bucs pay a visit to Neyland Stadium to take on Tennessee, where he coached for 17 years.
Sanders played his high school ball at Morristown East. Several family members were on hand for his introduction.
“It is nice to be back home,” he said. “But I can also tell you, if this job was 1,000 miles from where I grew up, I would still want to be here. I have that kind of excitement about it.”
If not for bad timing, Sanders might have been the coach when the program was restarted back in 2013. His former boss at Tennessee, Phillip Fulmer, was helping ETSU in its search for a coach.
“When you started football back a few years ago, Coach Fulmer was very involved,” Sanders said. “He called me on a Monday. He said ‘Hey, are you interested in the East Tennessee State job?’ I was like ‘Phil, why didn’t you call me Thursday?’ Because the Friday before I had taken the job at Florida State and I couldn’t tell them I was coming and then turn around and leave.
“But had I had the opportunity then, I would have been here five years ago.”
ETSU President Brian Noland lauded Carter for his work in getting the new man aboard.
“Scott has done a textbook search,” Noland said. “From beginning to end, he’s done his homework, he’s done his due diligence.”
Sanders promised to work hard to continue the building of a program that spent more than a decade dormant until being resurrected.
“It takes work; it takes commitment,” he said. “It takes a time commitment and it takes a financial commitment. If we want to keep improving, we have to keep committing. That’s just the nature of the beast.
“I’m going to be working my butt off. I can promise you that.”