All his life, Brandon Sanders has been surrounded by successful coaches.
The former defensive back was a four-year starter (1992-95) under Dick Tomey and part of the Arizona Wildcats’ Desert Swarm defense. He spent three seasons with the New York Giants, playing under defensive coordinator John Fox, now the head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Then Sanders was an assistant coach under Pat Nugent at Pima College and for Jeff Scurran at Catalina Foothills High School.
Now, Sanders will try to share what he has learned.
The 40-year-old former UA football standout and San Diego native recently accepted an offer to become Pueblo’s fourth coach in the last six years. He replaces another former UA player, Adrian Koch, who went 9-21 in three seasons.
It’s one of Southern Arizona’s most challenging jobs.
Pueblo went 8-4 and was crowned Class 5A state champion in 1961, but soon fell on hard times. The Warriors have made the playoffs only three times since 1973, with their last appearance coming in 1990.
“I’m just excited to take over a program and try to build it up,” Sanders said. “I don’t want something spoon-fed to me. I’d rather get me a fishing pole than a fish.”
The two-time first-team All-Pac-10 player said he also applied for openings at Cholla and Santa Rita but liked how Pueblo’s administration showed interest in changing the culture of a program that has never been past the state quarterfinals. The Warriors last posted a winning season in 2002, going 6-5.
“They’re willing to do whatever it takes to change that program around,” Sanders said. “That’s what you need. It can’t just be a coach by himself; it’s got to be coaches, admiration, teachers and the community.”
Sanders said he wants to open the doors to any players or coaches who were around during Pueblo’s prime. The Warriors went 10-1 in 1988, advancing to the state quarterfinals.
As far as how long it’s going to take to get things going, Sanders is hoping to be an immediate factor in Section II of Division III and make the state playoffs. Sanders has spent the last several seasons around Nugent and Scurran, two coaches who gave him a wealth of knowledge and know plenty about advancing to the state playoffs.
Achieving that goal would pave the way for his long-term ambition of leading the Warriors to a state title, an idea that is still fresh in his mind after being present at Arizona Stadium the night Salpointe Catholic won the Division II championship in November.
“I want us to feel and to see a state championship,” Sanders said.
“People say that’s way up in the sky and things like that, but if we do things right — we get things going the way we’re supposed to — it can happen.”