John Sanders ‘un-retires’ to go to San Tan Foothills HS

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San Tan Foothills High School is starting over again with a new head football coach, after Rodger Schenks spent the last five years building the program into a consistent playoff contender.

But not with just any coach.

The Queen Creek school is making perhaps the biggest splash of the summer by hiring one of the best, and also one of the more controversial, coaches in the state.

John Sanders has replaced Schenks, who left to take a position with the American Leadership Academy, a charter school also located in Queen Creek.  Schenks took over a program that went 1-9 during the 2009 season, improved it to three wins the next season, and since then has posted eight-win seasons in three of the last four years.

Sanders has an impressive coaching resume that includes several professional teams in the NFL and USFL and a handful of colleges, including Arizona State University.

But it was the four state high school championships he won during five years as head coach at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale that made him one of the most well-known and successful coaches in Arizona.  When he left the Saguaro program, he had compiled a 62-7 record.

But it was the way in which he left that generated the most buzz.

In the final game of the 2011 regular season, Sanders stretched the limits of his worth to the program when he held out many of the key starters in a game against in-town rival, Chaparral High.  The result was a humiliating 65-0 loss to the Firebirds – in a game that was showcased on national television.

He said he wanted to make sure his best players were healthy and rested for the playoffs.  But, despite the fact that Sanders led his team to an undefeated season, it was the final straw for those in the program that found Sanders egotistical and hard to work with.  The rub began long before the Chaparral incident since Sanders had been on staff for years and was the defensive coordinator before stepping in to take over the program in 2007.  The arrogance he displayed in throwing a big game to a big rival was the final straw.

He spent some time on Todd Graham‘s staff at ASU before deciding to retire.  But it was hard to stay away from the game, so he agreed to help out last season at Williams Field High School, a Division III program in Gilbert.

But this summer, according to a post at Tri-ValleyCentral, he had accepted a job coaching a European football team.  But when the job offer from San Tan Foothills came, he decided to return to the high school game instead.

Saguaro High was a Division III team, while San Tan competes in Division V.  But the game is the same, and Sanders is one of the better coaches at putting together a game plan and getting his players to buy into it.

He will have the disadvantage of getting a late start after being hired just a couple of days into July, missing out on summer workouts.  But the smart money says his team will be ready for the Aug. 21 season opener against North Pointe Prep.

That’s a home game, and you can bet the San Tan fans will fill the stands to see if Sanders still has the old magic.