Dec. 20, 2012
Tallahassee, Fla. – Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher continued to fill in his staff Thursday when he announced the hiring of veteran defensive coach Sal Sunseri. Sunseri has a long history of success coaching in the SEC and the NFL over the course of a 28-year span. He has been a defensive coordinator, assistant head coach at Alabama for Nick Saban and a seven-year defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. Sunseri will join Fisher’s staff in time to coach in the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl.
“He’ll be our defensive ends coach,” said Fisher when asked about the Sunseri hire. “Another great recruiter. Another great guy that’s coached in the NFL, coached tons of first-round picks at linebacker and defensive end. A lot of knowledge. He and I have been together for a long time. He and I have known each other for a long time. He used to send his son to my camp. I used to coach his son in camp for many years and got to develop him early — Tino. And we coached together at LSU during those times. We have been friends for a long time. He brings a lot to the table. And that’s another guy in the system who also knows that system. So you’ve got a front-end guy to help bridge that gap.”
Sunseri joins Florida State after serving as the defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2012. With the Vols, Sunseri coached two of the nation’s top defensive players. Linebacker A.J. Johnson was fourth in the nation and led the SEC averaging 11.5 tackles per game. Cornerback Byron Moore was tied for 11th in the nation in interceptions and he led the Southeastern Conference in that category.
Prior to Tennessee, he spent three years as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Alabama under Saban, including the 2009 and 2011 national championship teams. He also spent seven years (2002-08) with the Carolina Panthers under then-head coach and current Denver Broncos coach John Fox, a tenure that included the franchise’s lone NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance.
A former All-American linebacker at Pittsburgh, Sunseri joined the Alabama staff in January of 2009 after serving as the defensive line coach with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. As a member of the Crimson Tide staff, he held the title of assistant head coach for defense and coached the outside linebackers.
The 2011 outside linebackers flourished under Sunseri and contributed to the overall success of the defense. Lombardi and Butkus Award finalist Courtney Upshaw led the way with 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, which ranked second and fourth, respectively in the SEC. Sunseri was also recognized individually for his contributions when he was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, presented to the nation’s top assistant coach.
In 2010, Sunseri continued to build on his solid foundation from the National Championship season. The defensive unit ranked third in the country in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. Sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower garnered second-team All-SEC honors with 69 tackles (second on the team) and nine quarterback hurries. Upshaw led the Tide from his jack linebacker spot with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks and was named the MVP of the Capital One Bowl after recording five tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in the 49-7 win over No. 7 Michigan State.
In Sunseri’s first season at Alabama, he helped guide the Tide to the National Championship behind a dominant defense that ranked second nationally in four major categories – rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. His NFL experience with the pass rush helped Alabama generate 32 sacks and 98 tackles for loss, despite losing Hightower to an early-season injury. Alabama was also well-represented on the AP All-America team with three defenders earning first-team honors, including Butkus winner Rolando McClain.
Sunseri’s defensive line with the Panthers was regarded as one of the best in the NFL. Defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins earned Pro Bowl honors during his tenure. He produced at least one Pro Bowl defensive lineman five times as the line coach. The Panthers were among the top 10 in the NFL in terms of fewest yards allowed in four of his seven seasons and made three playoff appearances.
Sunseri came to Carolina as a defensive assistant in 2002 and took over as defensive line coach in 2003. It was a seamless transition as the Panthers defensive line accounted for 32.5 of the team’s 40 total sacks and also produced a pair of Pro Bowl players in Jenkins and Rucker, setting the standard for which his future units would be measured.
Prior to his time at Carolina, Sunseri worked as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Michigan State in 2001 after spending 2000 on Saban’s Louisiana State staff in the same capacity. He was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Alabama A&M in 1998 and 1999 after three seasons as the linebackers coach at Louisville. Sunseri’s climb of the coaching ladder included one-year stops at Illinois State (1994) and Iowa Wesleyan (1993).
He broke into coaching at his alma mater, Pittsburgh, in 1985 and directed the defensive line and linebackers before being named assistant head coach in 1992.
Sunseri began his playing career at the University of Pittsburgh in 1978 as a walk-on and ended it as a team captain and consensus All-American as a senior in 1981. A three-year starter at linebacker, he helped the Panthers to a combined record of 33-3 and anchored a defensive unit that led the NCAA in total defense in 1980 and 1981. He was the defensive MVP in the 1982 Senior Bowl and was drafted in the 10th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers but had his pro career cut short by a knee injury in training camp. He received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Pittsburgh in 1982.
Sunseri is married to the former Roxann Evans, who was a varsity gymnast at Pittsburgh. The couple has two daughters, Jaclyn and Ashlyn, and two sons, Santino (a quarterback at Pittsburgh) and Vinnie (a defensive back at Alabama).
SAL SUNSERI COACHING CAREER
2012 » Tennessee, Defensive Coordinator
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)