University of Tennessee head football coach Derek Dooley hired Sal Sunseri as the Vols' defensive coordinator on Jan. 13, 2012.
Sunseri joins Tennessee after serving the last three years as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban, including the national championship teams of 2009 and 2011. He also spent seven years (2002-08) with the Carolina Panthers under then-head coach and current Denver Broncos head coach John Fox, a tenure that included the franchise's lone NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance.
"Sal has had unparalleled success over the last decade in not only contributing to team and unit success, but also in his ability to motivate and develop elite individual talent," said Dooley. "His combination of defensive knowledge, recruiting success, high-energy personality, ability to connect with players, and personal integrity and character make him an exceptional fit for Tennessee."
Sunseri has 27 years of coaching experience, including service as an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator and responsibility for coaching the defensive line, linebackers, and special teams.
Sunseri's Alabama linebacker corps enjoyed considerable success in 2011, including Butkus Award finalist, Lombardi Award finalist, and Nagurski Award semifinalist, and first team All-American and first team All-SEC performer Courtney Upshaw. Junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower was also a finalist for the Lombardi, Butkus, and Bednarik Awards as well as the Lott Trophy while earning first-team consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC honors.
"The chance to work with Derek Dooley, who has been around championships and knows what it takes to build an elite program, combined with the rich tradition of the University of Tennessee makes this opportunity so exciting to me," said Sunseri. "I am fired up to work with all of the young talent on the defensive side of the ball, and I can't wait to get up to Knoxville and coach them."
Overall, Sunseri's linebackers were part of a defensive unit that led the nation in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense in 2011. The Alabama defensive unit ranked third in the nation in scoring defense and fifth in total defense in 2010, and the 2009 Crimson Tide linebackers group coached by Sunseri included Butkus Winner, AP All-American, and Oakland Raiders first-round draft selection Rolando McClain. Sunseri was also named the 2011 recruiter of the year by 247Sports.com.
Sunseri's seven-year stint with Carolina from 2002-08 included service as a defensive assistant in 2002 and the defensive line coach from 2003-08, during which time a trio of Panthers defensive lineman: defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive end Mike Rucker, and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, earned Pro Bowl honors. Carolina made the playoffs in three of those seven seasons while finishing in the top 10 in the NFL in fewest yards allowed on four occasions during Sunseri's tenure with the Panthers.
Carolina also won the NFC Championship in 2003 with a 14-3 win over Philadelphia in the conference championship game, two years removed from a 1-15 season in 2001. The Panthers fell to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII that season, 32-29. During Sunseri's time with the Carolina, the franchise won two NFC South titles and made the playoffs three times.
Before joining the Panthers, Sunseri worked as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Michigan State in 2001 following a year in the same capacity on Saban's LSU staff in 2000. Sunseri was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Alabama A&M from 1998-99 following a three-year stint as linebackers coach at Louisville from 1995-97.
Sunseri entered the University of Pittsburgh as a walk-on in 1978. By the time his playing career ended, he earned consensus All-American honors and was the Panthers' team captain as a senior in 1981. He started for Pitt for three years from 1979-81, during which time the Panthers went 33-3 and led the NCAA in total defense twice, in both 1980 and 1981.
After his playing days ended, Sunseri began his coaching career at 1985 at Pitt. He served as defensive line coach and linebackers coach and was named assistant head coach in 1992. He subsequently spent one year at both Iowa Wesleyan (1993, assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, special teams coach) and Illinois State (1994, defensive coordinator).
Sunseri and his wife Roxann, have two daughters, Jaclyn and Ashlyn, and two sons, Santino and Vinnie. Santino is a quarterback at Pitt, while Vinnie is a defensive back at Alabama who earned Freshman All-SEC honors in 2011.
SAL SUNSERI COACHING CAREER
2009-11 » Alabama, Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers
2002-08 » Carolina Panthers, Defensive Line
2001 » Michigan State, Linebackers/Special Teams
2000 » LSU, Linebackers/Special Teams
1998-99 » Alabama A&M, Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
1995-97 » Louisville, Linebackers
1994 » Illinois State, Defensive Coordinator
1993 » Iowa Wesleyan, Assistant Head Coach/Def. Coordinator/Special Teams
1985-92 » Pittsburgh, Defensive Line/Linebackers/Assistant Head Coach (1992)