John Sanders just can’t help himself. Everywhere the Saguaro football coach goes, he stirs up controversy.
Two weeks ago, Sanders elected to rest his starters for the Sabercats’ regular-season finale against rival Chaparral, drawing a firestorm of criticism from community members and the local media for tanking a nationally televised game.
Last week, he allowed superlative running back D.J. Foster to run for 508 yards and 10 touchdowns in an 81-48 win over Peoria Sunrise Mountain.
On Thursday night, in the fifth-seeded Sabercats’ Division II quarterfinal game at No. 4 Queen Creek, Sanders showed up minus defensive coordinator Jon Turoczy amid rampant rumors that Turoczy had been fired after the Sunrise Mountain win.
Sanders declined to comment on the situation, but Turoczy’s absence from a playoff game was an obvious sign the rumors had some truth.
We may never know the reasons why Turoczy was dismissed or decided to leave. Maybe the reason was legitimate.
You can also make the argument that Sanders did nothing wrong the previous week in a game that was decided by 33 points – hardly the type of unconscionable blowout we’ve seen from other schools on all too many occasions.
You can even make a case -- as former Saguaro, Gilbert Mesquite and Gilbert Highland coach Mike Reardon did -- that Sanders made the right call in resting his starters against Chaparral.
The playoffs are, after all, the point and goal of the regular season.
I have immense respect for Reardon, who attended Thursday’s game. He’s a straight shooter, he’s a logical thinker and he has a big heart. If this were college or pro football, I would agree with him wholeheartedly. But I believe high school football is more about community. I believe parents and players should fully back such a decision. The Saguaro community was not 100 percent behind Sanders’ decision in the Chaparral game; it was closer to a 50-50 split.
If each were an isolated incident, it would be easy to brush it off with time. But the entire package makes you wonder about Sanders’ perspective -- or lack thereof. Football coaches are notorious for being so thoroughly ensconced in their own program that they fail to either see or consider other viewpoints.
Though the circumstances differ dramatically with Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Ohio State’s Jim Tressel -- circumstances we don’t mean to diminish by comparison -- the underlying issue is the same. Too many coaches think they run the show on, off and all around the field. When they fail to consider other perspectives, it smacks of arrogance and self-absorption, and it often leads to a downfall.
If Saguaro wins the Division III title in two weeks, the predictable storyline in multiple publications will be how the Sabercats overcame obstacles. The sad reality is that those stories will miss the greater point while fueling some coaches’ long-held belief that winning cures everything.