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Marvin Sanders shifts gears to coach football at Los Angeles Loyola

After coaching at the college level since 1992, including last season as an assistant at USC, Sanders, 45, is making an interesting move. But, can he adjust to high school football?

Eric Sondheimer

February 26, 2013

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Can someone who has coached all of his career at the college level suddenly reverse course and be successful at the high school level?

That's one of the questions facing Marvin Sanders, who was hired Saturday to take over the football program at Los Angeles Loyola.

Sanders, 45, was the secondary coach at USC for one season in 2012, then was fired by Coach Lane Kiffin when the Trojans revamped their defensive coaching staff. He has coached at the college level since 1992, when he became an assistant at Nebraska Wesleyan. He has coached at Nebraska, New Mexico State, Colorado State and North Carolina.

One question among Loyola officials was how long his career move to high school might last.

"That's everybody's concern," said volleyball Coach Michael Boehle, who was on the committee that interviewed coaching candidates. "What makes you want to do this after being in the college ranks for 20 years? His high school coach had a huge impact on his life, and he wants to give back."

Sanders, who is scheduled to meet his new players Wednesday after being in Nebraska over the weekend attending a friend's funeral, said, "I'm committed to doing a great job at Loyola."

He added, "The reason I'm coaching is to give back and help young men develop on and off the field. That's always been my goal. It just always happened to fall at the college level. The opportunity [to coach high school] hasn't presented itself until now. It's been something I wanted to do."

Loyola usually hires coaches who have ties to Loyola. Athletic Director Chris O'Donnell acknowledged the school is taking a gamble in going outside its usual comfort zone, but he said, "If people say it's a risk, I say it's an opportunity."

Sanders is the only African American football head coach in the Trinity, Serra or Mission leagues, the three most powerful football leagues made up of private schools in the Southern Section.

"I think the world of him," said former St. Paul coach Elijah Asante, who met Sanders when he was an assistant at Nebraska and coaching one of Asante's former players from L.A. Jordan, Ricky Thenarse. "I think he'll do well. It's a matter of going in and consolidating the support from the alumni base."

Loyola is not the first school to take the plunge in hiring an ex-college assistant. Last year, Orange Lutheran hired Chuck Petersen, who was a longtime college assistant. And Westlake Village Oaks Christian hired Jeff Woodruff, who had been an assistant at Texas El Paso.

Sanders' first priority might be making sure his quarterback of the future, freshman Tre Polamalu, sticks around. His father, Kennedy, was an assistant coach with Sanders at USC until his firing.

"Kennedy had always expressed to me his admiration for Loyola," Sanders said.

Sanders is expected to retain many of the assistants from former coach Mike Christensen's staff.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com