Seniors Ainge and Woodson are thankful for Sanders' tutelage
Announcing the 2007 graduating class of the Randy Sanders School of Quarterbacks.Please rise and come forward when your name is called.
"Erik didn't have a great sophomore year, but there were a lot of other people on the team that didn't play well that year. It wasn't just the quarterback."Still, it was Sanders who took the knife for everyone. It bothered Ainge when it happened, and it still nags him. "It wasn't his fault when we went 5-6," said Ainge, who has had his rough edges smoothed out by former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe, the Vols' offensive coordinator in his second tour of duty. "There were a lot of reasons for that. There's always the one person that takes the fall, and unfortunately it was him." Sanders, who was coached by Cutcliffe when he played at UT, didn't wait too long to find a new job. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks was looking for a quarterbacks coach. Whomever he hired had to polish Woodson, a nicely sculpted 6-foot-6, 230-pound specimen who relied more on athletic ability than anything. Which is why Woodson was a breakeven QB, a guy who threw as many interceptions as touchdowns, someone who rarely strung together two good games. "I liked Randy as a person, but more importantly I was very impressed with the job he did over the years at Tennessee." Brooks said. "He had vast experience as a coordinator, as well as a position coach. He had good recruiting connections and knowledge of the SEC." So in the spring of 2006, Sanders, having spent most of his life in Knoxville with a closet full of orange coaching shirts, suddenly found himself in Kentucky blue. "It's hard to leave your alma mater, especially when I'd been there so long and it meant so much to me," Sanders said. "But at the same time, it has been refreshing seeing a different way of doing things. "At Tennessee, we never changed & the way we did things, from the time I was a player through my coaching career. We did things pretty much the same the whole time, so if it's not broke why fix it? "We [Kentucky] have a different approach toward practice and a different approach towards lots of things. Some of the things we do here I like, some of the things we did at Tennessee I liked. I've had fun at both places."
Before he got here, I never had the work ethic to be better. I was just going through the motions in practice, I didn't work hard, I didn't watch enough tape to prepare myself for games. Until Coach Sanders got here, I didn't have an understanding of that. Once he got here, everything changed.
Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson on Randy Sanders
"If you make a bad play, coach Sanders is not going to freak out," Ainge said. "He's going to say, 'What did you see? What did you do? Let's go do it again.'"Added Woodson, "In any football game, there's things that are going to go wrong. You have coaches who go off and yell at everybody. Then, you have coaches like coach Sanders who calmly stands over there and tries to calmly talk to you, and asks you about the situation. It helps you relax, stay calm and be a poised as you can be." When Saturday's game is over, maybe Ainge and Woodson can meet for a handshake, and one last picture with the coach whose deft guiding hand touched them both. "It's going to be a unique situation for me," Sanders said of Saturday's game. "It's not often you take the field with two guys that you coached, that you are close to, and I care about as much as I do Andre' and Erik."
Ron Higgins covers the Southeastern Conference for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn.