I'll admit that, at first, I didn't like the idea of replacing Justin Wilcox with Sal Sunseri. "Alabama's linebackers coach? Come on, can't we get someone who's proven themselves?"
Then I remembered how insanely good Alabama's linebackers are right now. All of them guys that he coached up. Courtney Upshaw is one of the best rush linebacker prospects in this draft class, if not the best. I still get angry that Dont'a Hightower didn't go to Tennessee. Even the weak link, Nico Thorpe, is a great linebacker.
So if nothing else, Tennessee can expect Sunseri to do a great job coaching up A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt into phenomenal players.
So I've come around, and now I think the hiring of Sunseri was a great move. And not just because he'll make Tennessee have a good linebacker corps either.
First of all, Sunseri has coached in all kinds of different systems and positions. He's been a defensive line coach (in college and the pros), a linebackers coach, a special teams coach, a defensive coordinator, even a head coach for a brief period. He's coached 4-3 teams and 3-4 teams and everything in between.
With Malik Jackson leaving, Tennessee could really use a good defensive line coach. And we all know how much our special teams need improving. Sunseri has been around enough, it looks like, he knows how to handle all the ins and outs of a defense.
Second of all, he's successful. I think Alabama had no place in the National Championship game (but that's a different article), but that was one of the best defensive efforts I have ever seen at the college level. Beyond that, Alabama has had one of the best defenses in the country these last three years. If Sunseri was a part of that, then I'll be pretty happy with him.
Third, he and Derek Dooley both learned under Nick Saban. Why does that matter? Well, any time you have a change in the coaching staff, you run the risk that coaches will not fit. If Sunseri and Dooley had very different philosophies about what Tennessee's defense should be doing, for instance, they might butt heads and affect team chemistry negatively.
Since both Dooley and Sunseri worked under the same guy, there's a pretty good chance that they'll work together effectively and efficiently.
Finally, I think he has a pretty easy job going into next year, so the reservations I had are probably not going to be a big deal anyway.
Tennessee's defense really came together at the end of the year. They held Alabama to six points in the first half and snapped Trent Richardson's streak of 100 yards rushing games. They held South Carolina to just 14 points. They shut out MTSU. They finally started creating turnovers.
Everything was starting to click, but the offense was struggling to stay on the field, and defense alone wasn't enough to win games. Either way, the defense looked good at the season's end and it's getting almost everyone back.
Malik Jackson and Austin Johnson are graduating, but all the other players (so far, at least) are returning. Because of that, all Sunseri has to do is know how to call defensive plays and the players ought to do a lot of his job for him.
Anyway, despite my initial reservations, I'm happy with the hire. Sunseri ought to have a good year at Tennessee in 2012.
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