ROSWELL, GA. – Roswell will begin the 2013 high school football season with its third head coach in the last four years after Justin Sanderson was fired.
Sanderson has been a coach with the Hornets since 2003, and was the head coach the past two seasons. Roswell went 3-17 under Sanderson after qualifying for the state playoffs nine times the previous 11 seasons.
“I’m not naïve. This is a results-oriented business and we didn’t win a lot of games,” Sanderson said. “I thought I had another year. It took me off guard.”
Sanderson inherited a difficult situation in 2011, his first season as head coach.
Leo Barker, the team’s head coach from 2008-10, left unexpectedly due to his wife’s transfer to California. The Hornets were left both short-handed and inexperienced on the coaching staff that season. That was compounded by fielding a team that was coming off a senior-laden team the year before, and Sanderson and the senior starters he inherited lacked the talent level of most previous Roswell teams.
That first Hornet team went 0-10 in 2011, playing a brutal non-region schedule and losing four games by three points or less, at least three in the final minute.
Roswell opened this season with a decisive win over rival Centennial, but lost six in a row following that. Hard luck continued to follow Hornets as three of those loses were by three points or less.
The Hornets finished the season in impressive fashion, winning two of their final three games. Included was a season-ending win over playoff bound Walton and a close call against then No. 1-ranked Lassiter, which ended the regular season unbeaten.
Although Sanderson says he was given no specifics by Roswell principal Jerome Huff when he was informed of his removal as head coach, he said he thinks the decision to replace him came after a loss to Woodstock, the last one of the six-game streak.
In that game the Hornets were called for a number of personal fouls, something Sanderson says Huff referenced after the game.
“That may have been the game that did me in,” Sanderson said. “I felt like the decision had been made, but nobody validated that for me. The last three games, we really played well.”
Although the Hornets went 3-7 this season, they were competitive in every game, with the possible exception of a loss to Johns Creek.
Some coaching changes at other North Fulton schools in recent years have been partly a result of pressure from booster clubs and parents, but Sanderson said he does not believe that was the case.
“The parents and kids were very upset,” Sanderson said of their reaction to his dismissal. “There was a lot of support on my behalf.”
Sanderson was the offensive line coach on the Hornets’ state championship and quarterfinal teams of 2006 and ’07, and moved up to offensive coordinator before being named head coach.
He is in the process of trying to land a coaching job at another area school, while also helping his wife prepare for the imminent arrival of their second child. He has taught at the school for eight years after beginning his coaching career with the Hornets.
“I love Roswell,” said Sanderson. “It’s hard for me to think about leaving, but I need to move on.”
It’s likely that Huff will look outside the school for a new head coach, something that goes against the history of the Roswell football program. The team had only five head coaches from 1954-2007, but the new coach will be the third since Tim McFarlin stepped down after the 2007 season.
The recent re-districting to accommodate Cambridge which opened this fall has reduced Roswell’s attendance zone and will result in a number of the best athletes in the school’s feeder programs to wind up at Milton.
Roswell is also losing some athletes to Blessed Trinity, which has won state playoff games in each of its first two seasons with McFarlin as head coach.