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January 13, 2012By Chase Goodbread
TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama assistant coach Sal Sunseri accepted an offer to become the defensive coordinator at Tennessee Friday. Terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed, but a source close to the situation told The Tuscaloosa News that Sunseri received a three-year guarantee worth well in excess of $2 million over the full length of the contract.
That would place Sunseri among the Southeastern Conference's highest-paid assistant coaches. He earned $390,000 for 2011 as Alabama's outside linebackers coach. Three-year guarantees are rare for assistant coaches, and such a deal would also give Sunseri strong financial security in a program that has struggled under coach Derek Dooley.
"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," said Sunseri. "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 interviewed for the position earlier this week but was back in Tuscaloosa on Thursday when three UA underclassmen declared early eligibility for the NFL Draft. He replaces former Tennessee assistant coach Justin Wilcox.
"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," said UA coach Nick Saban. "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."
Sunseri's eventual replacement will be working with two new starters at outside linebacker next season for the Crimson Tide with the departures of senior Jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw and senior strongside linebacker Jerrell Harris. Sunseri' son, Vinnie, a freshman safety at Alabama whose playing time increased near the end of a national championship season, said he will remain at Alabama.
"The University of Alabama is the place for me and that is what my heart and my mind tells me," Vinnie Sunseri said. "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."
Sunseri's departure creates a second opening on the Alabama staff, along with the offensive coordinator role vacated by Jim McElwain. Saban is reportedly interviewing former New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Dirk Koetter, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars, among others, for the offensive coordinator role.
Sunseri would join another former UA assistant in Knoxville in Lance Thompson, who left UA after the 2008 season and is now the Volunteers' defensive line coach.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.