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Health concerns force Southeastern head coach Cesar Rivas-Sandoval to step down

Defensive coordinator Adam Waugh has been named acting head coach of the NAIA team

Southeastern head coach Cesar Rivas-Sandoval has stepped down, the program announced Tuesday. Health issues forced Rivas's tenure to a premature end; the coach has been diagnosed with cancer.

"We have poured everything we have into this program since arriving in Lakeland in January 2020," said Rivas. "I want to thank [President] Dr. Kent Ingle, [Executive Vice President] Dr. Chris Owen, and [Director of Athletics] for having the faith and trust in me to represent this university and its mission."

Southeastern is an NAIA team in Lakeland, Fla. 

Rivas went 13-4 in his two seasons, including a Mid-South Conference Sun Division championship in 2021. It was the program's first division title since 2018; he was named Sun Division Coach of the Year for the year.

The Fire closed the season -- and Rivas's tenure -- on a 5-game winning streak, including two wins over NAIA Top 25 teams. 

"Cesar has been instrumental in instilling and cultivating a healthy culture in our football program, both on the field and in the coaches' room," said AD Drew Watson. "As he steps away to take care of himself and be a great husband to Jen and father to Elena, Jocelyn, and Shiloh, he can do so knowing he has laid a substantive foundation for the future of the Fire football program. We are forever grateful. Our prayers are with him for a full recovery."

The 42-year-old spent six seasons at Asuza Pacific (D-II - CA) prior to joining Southeastern. He has been an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator and a head coach at the Division II level, and also coached in the NFL, the CFL, FCS and Division III.

"My thanks to our players who have given everything to be a part of something different and special," said Rivas. "They have allowed the process to supersede their own personal goals. They are going to continue to grow into world changers. I look forward to seeing their successes not only on the field, but also in life."

"Our coaches have been amazing," Rivas added, "not only helping to build the foundation and culture of a championship level football program but leading with faithful and selfless hearts. I cannot thank my staff enough for all the love and support they have given my family and I during this difficult time."

Defensive coordinator Adam Waugh has been named acting head coach. He was named the Sun Division assistant coach of the year in 2021.

"Adam Waugh brought a lifetime of football experience to Lakeland last year when he was hired on staff. His Christian faith, deep knowledge of the game, direct approach, and ability to connect with his colleagues and players has set him apart and made him the obvious choice to lead this team," said Watson. "I'm looking forward to working with him in continuing to build Fire football into a perennial national contender."

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.