Saunders returns to Ole Miss

David Saunders returned to Ole Miss after being the head coach at Millsaps the last few years. The last time he was with the Rebel football program, he was the in-house recruiting coordinator under then Coach David Cutcliffe. Now, he fulfills a dream - to be at Ole Miss as a position coach. He will mentor the Rebel linebackers in 2006. Read about it inside.

David Saunders had two goals when he left Ole Miss to become the head football coach at Millsaps.

One, to one day return to Ole Miss. Two, to be an on-the-field coach this time after serving as on-campus recruiting coordinator under David Cutcliffe.

Both his dreams were reached recently when Shawn Slocum left the linebackers coaching position to take a job with the Green Bay Packers in the NFL and old friend Ed Orgeron came calling for him the fill Slocum's slot.

"Words cannot express how excited I am to be back at Ole Miss, to be working for Coach O and to be an on-the-field coach here," said Saunders, who is working feverishly to get acclimated back in Rebel Land. "When I was here the last time, I always said I felt this place was a sleeping giant and there was no reason we couldn't win championships here. Now, looking at this new facility and everything that is going on here, I believe that more than ever. I can't describe how happy I am and my family is to be back here.

"I am just so happy to be a part of this program with Coach O, this staff and particularly right here at Ole Miss. Ole Miss has been in my heart since the first day I stepped on campus here in 1998. I loved the opportunity I was given at Millsaps - loved every minute of it, but to get back here is my dream."

Saunders will handle the linebackers in Orgeron's 4-3 defense at Ole Miss.

"I coached the secondary at Millsaps and was also the defensive coordinator. I coached the defensive line at Georgia Southern a few years ago. If you know defense and how everything fits, there is really no problem in coaching the linebackers, who are in the middle of everything. Knowing how to coach our LBs is something I feel very comfortable with," David continued. "I am excited about being in Coach O's defense and I'm excited about the group of players I have to work with."

Saunders is well-versed in the 4-3, but he says he's pumped up about learning all the nuances Orgeron has installed in his own special brand of the 4-3.

"Ed, through the years, has taken the 4-3 to other levels. He's learned as much as anyone in the country about the capabilities of the 4-3. He's had outstanding mentors to help him develop his style and he's added his own special touches to it," Saunders explained. "I like the things he has done in expanding the standard 4-3 into something with his own brand on it."

David hasn't been here long enough to have a full grasp of the personnel he has available, but he's doing double duty to learn about his LB candidates.

"Obviously, I know a lot about Patrick Willis. I have also been able to work with them as a group for a few days," he stated. "As a group, the energy level and focus they have shown me leaves no doubt in my mind they will do whatever they have to do to be the best linebacker unit in the Southeastern Conference.

"Patrick will not go through spring training due to his rehab on his foot, but he's right there with us in everything we do. He will take every step with us, he just won't be practicing. I got to see him play some last year and have seen all of his cutups. What makes him an excellent LB is obvious - size, speed, strength, intelligence, but what makes him a cut above and special is that he loves playing defense and loves playing the game of football. It just jumps off the tape at you how he loves to chase the ball down and loves to make solid contact. He just has an uncommon passion for the game."

Saunders is also very well aware of rising junior Garry Pack, who started every game at Sam LB last season.

"I see him getting better and better. You could see it as the season progressed last year - he improved from start to finish. I think the sky is the limit for him," said David. "All of our linebackers have the potential to get the job done and play winning football. It starts with Patrick and Garry, obviously, but Quentin (Taylor), Robert (Russell), LeRon (King), Rogers (Loche) and Brandon (Thomas) all have something to offer and will improve due to their abiity and intensity level they are exhibiting now in the offseason. It's a process for them, but I have high hopes for all of them."

Saunders said we, as Rebel fans, can expect to see a physical, energized and enthusiastic linebacking corps.

"Coach O sets the tempo level for the whole team. We will follow his lead in energy level and effort. That is critical to defensive play," Saunders said. "I'm an intense coach as well, but I also want to instill in my guys how important awareness, intelligence and knowledge are.

"What happens when the ball moves? What are the concepts of our defense in relation to what the offense is doing? What is your job as a play starts to develop? It doesn't do me any good to understand everything if my guys don't fully understand it. Patrick and every LB has to know exactly what to do in every situation that is thrown at them. I consider myself a teacher. We will take what we do to the nth level and know the defense inside and out. My goal is to teach our defense and linebacking play to a level where our players are never surprised at anything they see."

Saunders was an instrumental cog in the recruiting machine when he was at Ole Miss before, but he wasn't on the road. This time around, he will be.

"Coach O recruits night and day every day. I believe that's also a part of who I am," David closed. "Recruiting is who you are in this profession. It's every day, it's relationships, it's effort and work ethic. It will be fun for me to be a part of a program that stresses recruiting the way Coach O's program does. It's a highly competitive arena, but we are competitive people who like the challenge."

Saunders' recruiting area will be South of I-20 - including the Mississippi Coast and parts of Georgia and the Mobile area in Alabama.

"I say this jokingly, of course, and am not making light of the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but any delays on fixing those bridges on the Mississippi River down South to keep LSU off the Coast would be appreciated," he laughed. "We have to find a way to capture the Mississippi Coast and make it ours again."

Saunders' career has now gone full circle. He's back at Ole Miss, with a caveat - he's now fulfilling the dream of being on the field. He only has one regret.

"I just wish I hadn't sold my house here from the last time I was at Ole Miss," he laughed. "The price of real estate has gone up since I left."

Welcome "home," David.

OM Spirit Top Stories