Sanders was reinstated on Friday, exactly a week after the incident happened. He received a letter of reprimand and will be docked one week’s pay, roughly $4,300.
His reinstatement was announced by ETSU during a news conference at Greene Stadium.
“This university holds itself to an extraordinarily high standard,” Scott Carter, ETSU’s athletic director, said. “It is a privilege to work for, to play for and to be educated at East Tennessee State University. That standard of excellence was upheld this week.
“Randy Sanders was the best choice for our football coach in December. He’s the best coach today and I took great pleasure in talking to our football team to let them know he will be our coach into the future.”
Sanders was not present at the announcement, but the university issued a statement on his behalf.
“Last week, I responded to a situation with poor judgment towards the end of practice,” Sanders said in the statement. “I immediately apologized to the player directly involved and to my team, and contacted my athletic director to explain everything that happened. Since that time, I have cooperated freely and fully with the university and its review of the situation.
“I accept the decision by the university and recognize that through my role I have an obligation to lead by example. As I said back in December, I am truly grateful to be your coach and I am thankful for the opportunity given to me by our President Dr. Brian Noland and Athletic Director Scott Carter. I look forward to returning to the sideline.”
The incident happened when the team was running an end-of-game “Hail Mary” drill where the offense throws a deep pass into the end zone trying to score a last-second touchdown. The player in question — identified as freshman defensive back Tyree Robinson, but ETSU has not confirmed the player’s name — intercepted a pass and tried to return it out of the end zone.
According to an incident report issued by ETSU, Sanders was near the middle of the field when the player ran the ball out.
The report stated that Sanders said something to the effect of “What are you doing? That’s the dumbest football play I’ve ever seen. Just take a knee and we win the game.”
The player, according to the report, “responded sarcastically something to the effect of “I will, in a game.”
That’s when Sanders slapped the helmet of the player, who became visibly upset and left the field.
After a couple of more plays, Sanders called the team together, ended practice early and tried to apologize to the player. Sanders reportedly said while apologizing to his team “I try to teach you not to lose your composure and I failed you by losing mine.”
Sanders apologized again the next morning during a team meeting with the player in attendance. His suspension was announced three days later. He missed the team’s annual Blue-Gold spring game on Thursday night.
“I regret and apologize for the athletic department’s contributing to the embarrassment of this fine and great university that I love so much,” Carter said. “Sometimes things bring teams together and we don’t know why. This week has forged a bond of our team, the ETSU Buccaneer football program, like I have never seen, and I’ve been around it for half of my life. So I’m very excited to work with our coaches, led by Randy Sanders, to chase championships this fall in this beautiful stadium.”