Tennessee's Sal Sunseri weathers changes, focuses on final 2 games of season

Despite diminished role, coordinator still working long days

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri signals to his players during the game against Alabama at Neyland Stadium on Oct. 20.

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri signals to his players during the game against Alabama at Neyland Stadium on Oct. 20.

James Stone and Ja'Wuan James on the Vanderbilt matchup

MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee defensive lineman Maurice Couch tackles Missouri quarterback James Franklin during the second half against Missouri at Neyland Stadium Saturday. UT linebacker Jacques Smith, left, and defensive back Jaron Toney, right, assist.

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2012

MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee defensive lineman Maurice Couch tackles Missouri quarterback James Franklin during the second half against Missouri at Neyland Stadium Saturday. UT linebacker Jacques Smith, left, and defensive back Jaron Toney, right, assist.

For Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, the days begin early. By the time he leaves the football complex, it's almost midnight. His only time at home is spent catching a few winks before rising and starting over again.

Sunseri's arrival 10 months ago was supposed to represent a home-run hire and a triumphant promotion for Sunseri, 53, a veteran position coach who hadn't been a coordinator since 1999.

Instead, Sunseri has faced the brunt of the criticism for a historically bad defense and some of his authority has been diminished in the wake of changes made by head coach Derek Dooley.

In two weeks, it's very likely that Sunseri's brief stint in Knoxville will be over, and he'll be looking for another job.

"Nothing's going to change," Sunseri said. "We work right now for the University of Tennessee. We're going to work every single day. I've been here every morning at 5:30 and haven't left until 11 o'clock at night. That's what we do."

The Vols (4-6, 0-6 SEC) play at Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.).

Sunseri signed a three-year deal when he was hired and would be owed roughly $1.84 million if he is fired after the season. That amount would be defrayed by the salary he receives if he is hired at another school.

But "right now," as Sunseri said, he's still working for Tennessee and trying to build on the modest progress made last week against Missouri.

The Vols allowed only 64 yards in the first half, overcame a 77-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half and generally played well before breaking down at the end of regulation and in overtime.

Tennessee moved up one spot from 112th to 111th nationally (out of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams), a modest sign of a progress for a season in which the defense has seemed to get progressively worse each week.

Sunseri coached from the press box Saturday as part of game day changes instituted by Dooley. It was the first time Sunseri worked from upstairs this season, but where he spent each Saturday for the past seven before coming to Tennessee.

"I was very comfortable upstairs," Sunseri said. "You are able to see more, see exactly what they are doing and get the personnel in there. It was nice and clean and it was comfortable. It was where I have been."

Sunseri also was seated beside safeties coach Josh Conklin, who appears to have taken a more active role in the defense during the past week and a half.

The changes have been noticeable even in practice. On Tuesday, for example, Sunseri worked alone with three linebackers while Conklin and other coaches supervised the larger unit going over plays with the scout team.

Defensive graduate assistant Brandon Staley signaled in the plays from the sidelines on Saturday.

"We were getting the calls in, (players) were executing it fast and it was a good tempo," Sunseri said. "I thought Brandon Staley did a heck of a job of getting the calls from me and getting them in to the kids. The kids worked all last week on making sure everybody's eyes are on the signal-caller and the kids executed it. They did a nice job."

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 10

jobrando#216494 writes:

bull chit

Volunatic writes:

Huge loss with Kameron Miles decommitting-- especially since he plans to go to a different SEC school (I'm guessing bama, if they decide they need to accept a mere 4* safety).

THEKIDWISCONSIN writes:

Sunseri, just like Dooley, is in way over his head...

Can't knock the guy for taking the job. Someone calls me up and offers me a great job, with better pay even though I know it's way above me...of course i'm taking it.

Thing is, this is on Dooley. How could he have possibly thought in a must win season switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with a group of 4-3 guys was a good idea?

Dooley put Sunseri in a bad spot...mind you, I don't ever want Sunseri on my sideline again...but Dooley put him there.

pcorange writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Huge loss with Kameron Miles decommitting-- especially since he plans to go to a different SEC school (I'm guessing bama, if they decide they need to accept a mere 4* safety).

Probably Texas A&M. He won't be the last one if Dave Hart doesn't get off his duff.

snuffysmiff writes:

in response to pcorange:

Probably Texas A&M. He won't be the last one if Dave Hart doesn't get off his duff.

He has committed to Texas A&M today per Rivals.com. Hint to Tennessee, stop wasting time recruiting in Texas, all you're going to get are leftovers.

southerneagle84 writes:

Coach Sunseri hasn't done a bad job... he can only be blamed for so much. the DBs have to get their head around to find the ball to even have a chance to defend it. arm tackles wont cut it. over pursuit wont cut it. not getting off blocks wont cut it. lane discpline, pursuit... all of this is basic fundamental football. eliminate 1/2 of the play busts that resulted in long td plays and we've won 4 more games. and thats with Coach Sunseri and his defensive scheme. our boys have to play better. Coach can only do so much.

RoyaltyVol writes:

in response to southerneagle84:

Coach Sunseri hasn't done a bad job... he can only be blamed for so much. the DBs have to get their head around to find the ball to even have a chance to defend it. arm tackles wont cut it. over pursuit wont cut it. not getting off blocks wont cut it. lane discpline, pursuit... all of this is basic fundamental football. eliminate 1/2 of the play busts that resulted in long td plays and we've won 4 more games. and thats with Coach Sunseri and his defensive scheme. our boys have to play better. Coach can only do so much.

You must just be waking up from a 2 month nap. Sunseri is a lousy DC, maybe he is a good position coach but not DC. Worst DC ive ever seen at UT.

RoyaltyVol writes:

in response to THEKIDWISCONSIN:

Sunseri, just like Dooley, is in way over his head...

Can't knock the guy for taking the job. Someone calls me up and offers me a great job, with better pay even though I know it's way above me...of course i'm taking it.

Thing is, this is on Dooley. How could he have possibly thought in a must win season switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with a group of 4-3 guys was a good idea?

Dooley put Sunseri in a bad spot...mind you, I don't ever want Sunseri on my sideline again...but Dooley put him there.

I agree! However Sunseri was a bad hire as its takes years to perfect the 3-4 D. Dooley should have hired a solid 4-3 DC, if he had, I think we would have won at least 2 more games this year.

brokendownoldvol writes:

Sounds like he's hooked on porn.

brokendownoldvol writes:

in response to southerneagle84:

Coach Sunseri hasn't done a bad job... he can only be blamed for so much. the DBs have to get their head around to find the ball to even have a chance to defend it. arm tackles wont cut it. over pursuit wont cut it. not getting off blocks wont cut it. lane discpline, pursuit... all of this is basic fundamental football. eliminate 1/2 of the play busts that resulted in long td plays and we've won 4 more games. and thats with Coach Sunseri and his defensive scheme. our boys have to play better. Coach can only do so much.

You must have been in the band in HS.

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