Tennessee Football: Meet Sal Sunseri, Defensive Coordinator of the Vols

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterApril 16, 2012

Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri / Photo Credit: Associated Press
Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri / Photo Credit: Associated Press

Every Monday, The SEC Blog will feature an assistant coach in the SEC. This week, we take a look at Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.

After a long and successful coaching career that has spanned four decades, Sal Sunseri caught a break this offseason when he was tabbed by Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley to run Tennessee's defense.

Aside from being Pittsburgh's head coach for one game in 1992, Sunseri has been primarily a position coach since his coaching career started in 1985. He's been a defensive coordinator at lower levels of college football, but when Tennessee takes on N.C. State on Aug. 31 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, it will mark the first time that Sunseri has worked as a coordinator at the FBS level.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

Sunseri recently won two national titles in 2009 and 2011 as the associate head coach and linebackers coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Those defenses finished first and second in the country in total defense, respectively. 

But can he be a solid defensive coordinator in the SEC? That remains to be seen, but the early returns are positive from Rocky Top, where Sunseri is installing his 3-4 defense.

Junior college transfer Darrington Sentimore—who was a member of Alabama's 2009 and 2010 teams in which Sunseri was a coach—told the Associated Press that big things are in store for the Vol defense under Sunseri.

I know a lot of guys are going to be able to make plays in the 3-4. In this type of defense Coach Sal is running, he disciplines his guys well. I know we're going to win a championship over here with him as our defensive coordinator.

That's a lot of pressure on Sunseri, but he knew that this was a high-pressure gig when he took the job.

Head coach Derek Dooley is on the hot seat this season, and that pressure trickles down to assistants as well. 

The Vols return eight starters off of last year's defense, which finished ranked No. 7 in the SEC in total defense (340.5 ypg). That familiarity with each other should help ease Sunseri's transition to Knoxville.