Sanders will survive suspension

Joe Avento • Updated Apr 3, 2018 at 7:45 PM

The times are a-changing, and when it comes to sports, nothing is changing more than football.

From the way the amount of contact is limited in practice to the way defensive players can tackle to the way NFL quarterbacks are protected like they’re ballerinas, football has become a bit softer than the game we once knew.

The new rules apply to coaching as well.

East Tennessee State head coach Randy Sanders is on administrative leave for allegedly hitting a player in the helmet during a practice last week. While physical contact with a player can’t be condoned, everybody should step back and take a deep breath before drawing conclusions.

The incident has elicited all kinds of reactions. Some have shrugged off the alleged offense. Others have called for the new coach’s firing.

We’ve had emails from people recalling basketball coaches throwing the ball off their head to get their attention and football coaches getting so close while yelling that players could smell their foul breath. One reader mentioned a coach’s ring that, when properly applied to the side of a helmet, left the player’s ears ringing. It was all part of the games, they said.

Alternatively, some responses have said there’s no room for things like this in any sport.

Perhaps the real answer is somewhere in the middle.

Sanders should apologize and promise to never do it again. ETSU should accept the apology, reinstate him when spring football is finished and get on with the program.

We’ve had people up in arms recently because a local former high school coach was caught on video cussing at his players. Really? Have we become that sensitive? If that’s the standard to which we really want to hold our coaches, like it or not, there will be a lot of men and women out of work.

Former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes didn’t survive punching a Clemson player during the Gator Bowl in 1978. Back then you were allowed to hit only your own players.

Sanders should survive this and here’s why.

The incident happened on Friday and Sanders was allowed to coach the team in Saturday’s scrimmage. If it was truly a fireable offense, there’s no way ETSU would have allowed him to be at Greene Stadium over the weekend.

Like it or not, those kind of emotions have been part of football for years. Maybe that’s one of the changes that needs to be made to the game, and maybe this incident will be one of the catalysts for that change.

How many of us who played high school or college football throughout the years have had a coach slap us in the head or grab our facemask? We all knew that was part of the game. Sometimes we thought that’s why we had a helmet, to protect us from the coach.

This is not to make light of a serious situation, just stating the facts. Emotions run high during football, perhaps higher than during any other sport.

When ETSU announced the administrative leave, it said Sanders was out “pending the investigation of a potential violation of university policy.” The vague explanation left everybody wondering what exactly happened. No facts being given leads to speculation, and it was rampant on Monday morning as the news broke.

Was it a recruiting violation? Was it worse?

People contacted us asking if the FBI was involved like in college basketball. Others thought maybe there had been claims of harassment.

Coupled with the apparently unrelated departure of offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield to Baylor, there was speculation that he and Sanders might have gotten into an altercation.

That’s what happens when a suspension is announced with no reason given. Simply saying a potential violation of university policy tells the public — the people paying to come watch the team each Saturday — nothing.

Some ETSU supporters were actually relieved when they heard the reason.

The bottom line is coaches, like anyone else, should control their emotions, but if Randy Sanders was the right man to run the program before, he’s still the right man to run the program this fall.

Joe Avento is the Sports Director for the Johnson City Press and Kingsport Times News. Contact him at [email protected]

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