TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – University of Alabama assistant coach/linebackers coach Sal Sunseri is leaving to become defensive coordinator for Tennessee.
In his three seasons with the Tide, Sunseri earned a reputation as a stellar recruiter and position coach, leading a unit that produced several All-Americans including Rolando McClain, Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower. He was also a finalist for this year's Broyles Award, which goes to the country's top assistant coach.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he appreciated all Sunseri did to improve the program and wished him luck moving forward in his career at Tennessee.
"Sal is an outstanding coach and really did an excellent job with each and every responsibility he had while he was here at the University of Alabama," Saban said in a release. "Although we hate to see Sal go, we understand this is an opportunity for him to grow in this profession and take on the role of defensive coordinator."
Before joining the Tide, Sunseri was a defensive line coach in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-08.
Sunseri, a former NFL linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, handled many of the Tide's East Coast recruiting targets. In 2011, he nabbed coveted Maryland lineman Cyrus Kouandjio and Ohio product Trey Depriest. Just last week, Sunseri helped obtain the commitment of four-star athlete Cyrus Jones, another Maryland product. Sunseri was named one of the top 25 recruiters in the country by ESPN in 2011.
Sunseri was also instrumental in the recruitment of ESPNU No. 2 prospect Eddie Goldman. The No. 1 defensive tackle in the country from Washington, D.C., is considering Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Miami. A commitment by Goldman to Alabama would further improve the Tide's No. 1 class ranking, which is where it currently stands on ESPN. Goldman has said Sunseri is one of the reasons he likes Alabama.
Alabama commit and four-star inside linebacker Reggie Ragland caused a stir on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the news, posting "Wow!!! This man str8 up lied to me." Ragland quickly cleared up his comments, saying it was not directed at Sunseri and that he didn't have any knowledge of his departure at the time of the Tweet. "He will always be my favorite coach I understand what he had to do its just business," Ragland posted later.
Sunseri's move reunites him with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. The two worked together on Saban's staff at LSU in 2000.
"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," Sunseri said in a release by the university. "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."
Sunseri's move directly impacts his son, Vinnie, who saw significant playing time his freshman year with Alabama. Vinnie was named to the 2011 Freshman All-SEC team, along with Kouandjio. Vinnie said he plans to stay at Alabama.
"I love my dad, this is a great opportunity and I'm really happy for him," Vinnie said in a statement. "Alabama is the place for me and that is what my heart and my mind tell me. This is my home and there is no place else I'd rather be. I'll root for him every day of the year except for the third Saturday in October."
Alex Scarborough covers University of Alabama athletics for TideNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexS_ESPN.