Wheaton assistant takes Whitworth job

More news about: Wheaton (Ill.) | Whitworth

Rod Sandberg has been the defensive coordinator at Wheaton (Ill.) for the past decade and has taken his first head coaching job.
Wheaton athletics photo 

Rod Sandberg, a longtime defensive assistant coach at Wheaton (Ill.), has been selected as the head football coach at Whitworth.

Sandberg succeeds John Tully, who resigned in November following 19 years as the Pirates’ head coach.

“I’m very excited to welcome Coach Sandberg as Whitworth’s new head football coach,” said Whitworth president Beck A. Taylor. “In my many conversations with Rod, he has demonstrated not only great leadership and coaching strengths, but he also understands and embraces Whitworth’s mission. It will be fun to see where Rod will take the Pirates.”

Sandberg has served as the Thunder defensive coordinator since 2003 and he has been on Wheaton’s staff as the linebackers’ coach since 1995. In addition he has served as the team’s recruiting coordinator.

“We have hired a head football coach who strongly resonates with our mission and values, both institutionally and in the athletics department,” said Melinda Larson, Whitworth’s interim athletic director.

Sandberg, who has coached seven NCAA Division III All-Americans and 49 All-CCIW players during his tenure at Wheaton, had been coveted by other schools as a possible head coaching candidate throughout his time with the Thunder.

“It became clear to me during the interview process that Whitworth University is a special place,” Sandberg said. “The players, faculty and the administration are the kind of people I want to align myself with.”

Wheaton has made the NCAA Division III playoffs five times since Sandberg assumed the duties of defensive coordinator for the Thunder in 2003. The team never lost a first-round playoff game and reached the Division III semifinals in 2008 and quarterfinals in 2003.

Sandberg’s 2007 and 2013 squads led the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, regarded as one of the strongest football leagues at the Division III level, in scoring defense. The Thunder were second in the league in scoring defense five other times.

As the Wheaton defensive coordinator, Sandberg helped develop Andy Studebaker (DL, 2006), Pete Ittersagen (DB, 2007 and 2008) and Brandon Dykstra (DL 2012) to All-American honors. Studebaker is in his sixth season in the NFL, currently with the Indianapolis Colts.

As the linebacker coach, Sandberg guided Chip Parrish (1995-96), J.D. Leman (2000) and Justin Knapp (2002) to All-America honors.

“Rod distinguished himself as our top candidate in a deep and talented applicant pool due to his proven coaching ability and his familiarity with Division III,” Larson said.

Whitworth returns several key players from the 2013 season, which finished with a final record of 4-6, including a 2-4 mark within the Northwest Conference.

But Sandberg does not see this as a rebuilding project for the Pirates.

“I see two very important things about this Whitworth squad,” he said. “First, there is a real bond among the players forged through their shared adversity. Second, they have a sincere desire to embrace change. They want to be led and they are ready to do the hard work it takes to reach their potential.”

“He [Coach Sandberg] brings a lot of passion and energy,” said Whitworth junior linebacker Grant Livingston. “He sincerely cares about all his players.”

Sandberg will begin work immediately. He will reach out to all the individual current players, begin introducing himself to recruits, pull together his coaching staff for next year, and connect with Pirate football alumni.

“There is much work to be done,” Sandberg said. “But God made it abundantly clear he is calling us here to Whitworth and Spokane.”

Sandberg will be joined at the press conference by his wife Amy, and their sons Derek and Toby.

Larson is ready to turn over the keys to the team to Sandberg.

“In his time with our current players he exhibited a passion for the game of football and the ability to clearly teach football skills,” Larson said. “He quickly established a positive rapport with the players and they appreciated both his competitive spirit and his commitment to service both on campus and in the community.”