Jan. 21, 2009
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -
Alabama head coach Nick Saban announced the hiring of Sal Sunseri on Wednesday. Sunseri, a former All-American linebacker at Pittsburgh, most recently coached the defensive line with the NFL's Carolina Panthers. As a member of the Crimson Tide staff, he will hold the title of assistant head coach and work with the linebackers.
"I'm extremely happy to add a coach the caliber of Sal Sunseri to our staff," said head coach Nick Saban. "From his playing days at Pitt, to coaching in college football and the NFL, Sal has been successful at every level of the game. Obviously, I know him very well from the time he coached for me at LSU and he is an excellent teacher, an excellent recruiter and coaches with great passion and enthusiasm. He will be an outstanding addition to our coaching staff and we look forward to having Sal and his family here at the University of Alabama."
Sunseri's defensive line with the Panthers was regarded as one of the best in the NFL. Defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive end Mike Rucker and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins earned Pro Bowl honors during Sunseri's tenure. He produced at least one Pro Bowl defensive lineman in five of six seasons as defensive 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.
"When you talk about college football tradition and national prestige, it doesn't get any better than the University of Alabama," said Sunseri. "This is a championship program with a championship coach in Nick Saban and I feel fortunate to be a part of that. I had the chance to work with him at LSU and know the quality of coach he is and the emphasis he places on building the total program, so I wasn't surprised by last season's success. When I was in the state coaching at Alabama A&M in Huntsville about 10 years ago, I remember thinking the only thing that could possibly be better would be to coach a few miles down the road at Alabama. My family and I are excited to be back in college football, and especially to be with Coach Saban and Terry in Tuscaloosa. This is a special time to be at the University of Alabama."
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 remained one of the best in the NFL in 2003 under Sunseri. Carolina ranked eighth in overall defense, 11th against the run and seventh in sacks per pass play. The 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.
The Panthers' defensive line has provided more than its share of superlatives. In 2006, the Panthers ranked seventh in yards allowed and seventh in sacks per play as two members of the starting unit, Peppers and Jenkins, were selected to the NFC Pro Bowl squad. In 2005, Carolina finished third in yards allowed, fourth against the rush and fifth in sacks per pass play. In 2008, Carolina ranked ninth in the NFL and fifth in the NFC in sacks (37.0) while also ranking 12th in the NFL and sixth in the NFC in scoring defense (20.6 ppg). Peppers earned his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl and established a new career-high with 14.5 sacks.
Prior to his time at Carolina, Sunseri worked as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Michigan State in 2001 after spending 2000 at Louisiana State under head coach Nick Saban in the same capacity. He coached at Alabama A&M in 1998 and 1999 as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach following three seasons from 1995-97 at the University of Louisville as linebackers coach. Working his way up the coaching ladder, Sunseri spent one year each at Illinois State as defensive coordinator in 1994 and Iowa Wesleyan as assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and special teams coach in 1993. He broke into coaching at his alma mater, Pittsburgh, in 1985 and coached defensive line and linebackers before being named assistant head coach in 1992.
Sunseri began his 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 (who is a freshman quarterback at Pittsburgh) and Vinnie.