Five months ago, Quad Sanders got what he thought was his break.
After years as a player, graduate assistant, and position coach with different college programs across the country, the defensive coordinator of the five-time 7A state champion Bryant Hornets had accepted his first head coaching job with the Jonesboro Golden Hurricane.
“At that time, there were only four head coaching jobs that really interested me, and Jonesboro was one of them,” he said. “It was an amazing opportunity and one I was so grateful to get.”
So, as is the case with coaches, especially early in their careers, Sanders relocated his family to Northeastern Arkansas, intent on bringing the same winning mindset that had helped make Bryant successful.
“My wife, Cedteria, opened me up to the idea of going to Jonesboro,” he said. “She was so supportive of the move, even though it meant we’d be even further from our family.
“Most people don’t really appreciate the sacrifices a coach’s family has to make in situations like these, so to know my wife had my back was special.”
Sanders, 36, accepted the Hurricane coaching job in mid-March and was laying the foundation for his program when, on May 30, news broke that Buck James was leaving the Bryant Hornets and accepting the job as head football coach for the Conway Wampus Cats. It was a decision that surprised almost everyone following Arkansas high school athletics.
“No one had any idea Coach James was on the verge of leaving Bryant,” Sanders said. “He and I talked all the time, and he gave me no indication that he was thinking about moving on.”
Reaction to James’ announcement among players, parents, and fans was immediate, but Bryant Superintendent Karen Walters and the Bryant School Board moved swiftly to find his successor. In a unanimous vote one day later, the school named James’ replacement and new head football coach: Quad Sanders.
“When Coach went to Conway and created the opening at Bryant, it was an entirely different situation,” he said. “I had just seen him, so to hear he was leaving was a huge shock for me.
“When I got the call about the Bryant job, it was a dream come true,” he continued. “We’d been there five years, and it was our home. We’d built a football program that had grown into something special. The chance to come back was perfect.”
Just six months removed from a 36-7 win over the Bentonville Tigers to lock down Bryant’s fifth consecutive 7A state championship while leading a defense that allowed only 11 points per game, Sanders now finds himself at the head of the table. But to hear him describe things, he’s not uncomfortable in the new role.
“What we built here was like a family, and this was coming home for me,” he said. “I have players on the team who will call me “Dad” or “Uncle.” That’s the atmosphere we’ve built with our players. Sure, our expectations are high, but these young men know we care about them.”
So, what part of the new job, if anything, feels different for Sanders?
“Right now, I feel as I did when I was a coordinator,” he said. “Coach James allowed us to coach our players without interfering or trying to micromanage our work. In a lot of ways, he treated us like we were already head coaches for our parts of the team and let us do what we were good at the best way we knew how.”
However, Sanders admits the advantage of youth is something he’s incredibly excited to take advantage of.
“What’s fun is that I’m still young and can go out there and get involved in different parts of our process,” he said. “If position groups want to split and work, I can take a side and help coach. Obviously, I’m going to be more in tune with our defense but getting in there with my offensive coaches is going to give me a chance to understand what works best with them.”
Sanders also has the advantage of familiar faces on the coaching staff that include offensive coordinator Julian Jones, defensive coordinator Travis Queck, and former coordinator, Kirk Bock, now Bryant’s athletics director.
“We already know how well our staff works together,” Sanders said. “It’s like a big brother/little brother relationship. We give each other a hard time, but it’s just part of the camaraderie we share.”
It’s a Hornet formula that clearly has a successful track record backing it up. And even with the coaching changes, Sanders maintains that on-the-field success is secondary to his and his coaches’ responsibilities of being role models to their young men.
“That’s the only reason any of us are doing this,” he said. “Obviously, you want to win and develop a successful program. But at the end of the day, our jobs are about developing these young men and giving them opportunities they might not otherwise have. The football is important, but it’s not more important than that.”
Bryant opens its season against the Benton Panthers at the Salt Bowl, August 26th at 7 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium.