“I want our offense to be exciting,” Sanders said during an introductory news conference at Greene Stadium on Sunday. “Whether you run it or throw it, when you score touchdowns, you are exciting. I’m an offensive guy and I’ve got to look at our personnel. I know what I would like to do, but it doesn’t matter what I want to do. It matters what our players can do. We will put together a plan and recruit to our plan, but until those guys get here, we will do what we do best.”
He hopes they can increase the offensive numbers from this season when the Bucs scored just 10 points over the final two games. Sanders, who has served as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator for Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida State, oversaw an offense during the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship run which set ACC records of 51.6 points per game and 11 consecutive games of 40-plus points.
He takes over a Buccaneer program, which was led the last three years by the defensive-minded Carl Torbush.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited about we can accomplish,” said Sanders, who will remain with Florida State through its Dec. 27 Independence Bowl game against Southern Miss. “Coach Torbush and his staff, what they’ve done has been phenomenal. They’ve laid a great foundation for ETSU football and I look forward to building on that foundation.”
The building process is a return home for Sanders, who has deep East Tennessee ties as a star quarterback at Morristown East High School and as a four-year letterman at Tennessee from 1985-88. He served an assistant coach for the Vols under head coaches Johnny Majors and Phil Fulmer.
With David Cutcliffe taking the Ole Miss head coaching position prior to the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, Sanders was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Vols’ 23-16 win over Florida State to wrap up the first-ever BCS National Championship.
He stayed at Tennessee until 2005 and then moved Kentucky as quarterbacks coach and later as offensive coordinator from 2006-12. He then moved to Florida State where he was on the coaching staff of the final BCS National Championship team in 2013. Under his tutelage, Jameis Winston became the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever and was the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft. While at Tennessee, Sanders was quarterbacks coach for another No. 1 pick in Peyton Manning.
He said that no decisions have been made about assistant coaching positions, although he promised to work quickly for both current and future staff. He met with four potential recruits on Sunday and talked about running an offense to best suit the players’ skills.
ETSU Athletic Director Scott Carter touted Sanders’ credentials of coaching in 26 bowl games in 29 seasons and his teams’ combined record of 258-105-2. But, he added that other factors played into the decision to hire Sanders with the final agreement not reached until Saturday night.
“The interest here was overwhelming,” ETSU athletic director Scott Carter said. “Number one, it was about the person, character and integrity to continue what Coach Torbush has worked so hard to build. Obviously, we wanted a winner and someone who can take us to championship-level success. His statistics are phenomenal. I wanted to make sure we had a great man and I think we’ve found that.”
Sanders knows there are plenty of challenges ahead with the Bucs coming off a 4-7 season, which included going 2-6 in the Southern Conference. He agreed with Torbush’s reference of the Southern Conference being the SEC of the FCS level.
“All you have to do is look at the history of the league and see It’s a very competitive league with a lot of great players and great coaches,” Sanders said. “We’re competing against programs who have been winning championships for a number of years. We’re still in the building process, but I think we have the pieces in place to keep building on the foundation. I see no reason we can’t compete for championships in the near future.”