Sal Sunseri: 'We wanted to do better for the Vol nation'

Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri signals to his players during the first half against Troy on Saturday in Neyland Stadium. 

(MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri signals to his players during the first half against Troy on Saturday in Neyland Stadium. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Who should Tennessee go after as its next coach?

See the results »

View previous polls »

A year ago, Sal Sunseri had a good job on a soon-to-be national championship team at Alabama. His son Vinnie played defensive back for the Tide, and Sal reveled in his role as assistant coach and dad.

Then he left for Tennessee, a career opportunity fraught with both opportunity and risk.

Today, Sunseri is a few days from coaching what will likely be his final game after a brief and ultimately bleak tenure at Tennessee. His defense is ranked 110th of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams, and his chances of landing a coordinator job again are slim.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was fired last Sunday, and most of his coaching staff will begin searching for new jobs after the Vols (4-7, 0-7 SEC) complete the season against Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.)

Even so, Sunseri said he has no regrets about coming to Knoxville.

“With anything in life, you’re taking a chance with whatever you do,” Sunseri said Wednesday. “My wife and my family knew what we were doing. We came up here and wanted to do better for the University of Tennessee. We wanted to do better for the Vol nation.”

While some coaches — like former Tennessee player and running backs coach Jay Graham — could be retained by the new coach, Sunseri spoke like a man resigned to moving on.

He opened his weekly meeting with reporters by thanking media for being “unbelievable” and “cordial” during the season.

“I have a lot of respect for a lot of you guys and a lot of the people in Knoxville, Tennessee,” Sunseri said. “This is a great town. This is a great university. And the bottom line is, we’ve got to get it done, somehow, someway, to get this program back to where it needs to be. I’m telling everybody here, ‘Thank you for the opportunity.’ It’s been a great experience for me and my family. We have been treated first-class.”

Sunseri is owed $1.837 million through February 2015, although his payments would be defrayed by the salary he receives in his next job.

“I’m a grown man,” he said. “It didn’t work out. But it doesn’t matter. I’m still going in the office at 6:30 in the morning and I’m going to break down the film and give the kids every bit of information that’s going to help them to perform.”

Sunseri has been in this situation before. In 1992, Pittsburgh coach Paul Hackett was fired with one game left in the season. Sunseri, the assistant head coach, was named interim coach for the final game of the season at Hawaii.

Graham was an assistant at Miami (Ohio) when Shane Montgomery was fired after the 2008 season.

But Graham landed at a better spot at South Carolina, a job he left after the 2011 season to join Dooley’s staff at his alma mater.

“I’d do it again,” Graham said. “I love my University. I wouldn’t think twice about it if I had a second opportunity to do it.”

Defensive line coach John Palermo, 60, has been in the coaching business for 39 years, so he understands that change goes with the territory.

“I’ll be quite honest, it’s not been emotional whatsoever,” he said. “I come to work at the same time, I do the same thing in meetings, I do the same thing at practice. It’s the reality that things like this happen in this business. They pay us a lot of money. We’re professionals. When things like this happen, you don’t like it, but you’ve got to live with it.”

Why is he stoic about the end of his tenure?

“I think it’s my age, not my personality,” Palermo said. “Twenty years ago I’d be (angry) at the world. But I’m not bitter by any stretch of the imagination with anything that transpired here. We did not do a good enough job to keep our jobs this year. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. This is a great place. There’s good people here. And whoever comes in next hopefully will get it turned around.”

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

Get Copyright Permissions © 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 95

volnbig11land writes:

He was classy with his comments, please do the same Vol nation.

prowler_tf34#460385 writes:

Action's speak louder than words, He's a good liar!

tennisvol writes:

Thanks Sal. If you are not retained, best of luck to you and your family.

RunningWithTheVols writes:

Dooley definitely raised the class of the program, however, I feel he did not hold people accountable and confront problems soon enough:

- Bray's immaturity and lack of development
- 3-4 defense transition, immediately, FL 2nd half for example
- On-going kicking debacle punting and FG's

He made changes to the OL coach and added a RB coach and the running game improved dramatically this year.

Just too nice of a guy to scream at people when the situation warranted it.

volinlm writes:

Thanks for your effort, Sal. Best of luck if you move on.

Dalton writes:

Not every coach succeeds in a new role on their first try...see Patriots coach...you learn what does and doesn't work and how to delegate teaching a little more than you would at linebacker coach...this man knows the game and will always have a job somewhere...wish him luck

BigBadVol writes:

Good luck to you and your family coach Sunseri. I wish the results were better but thank you for all your hard work. Better times are ahead for the program.

gillblog writes:

Poor guy. I hope he can get some sleep now.

Orangethrunthru writes:

Aptitude was the issue. I dont care how fast your 40 is if you dont have a firm grasp of the basics. Most of the young men we have recruited were so far ahead of others in their league that they didnt have to learn technique. They simply were faster or stronger than those they competed with. Their athletic prowse allowed them to take short cuts. They come to college and discover that everyone is strong everyone is fast. They dont have decent basics because they were able to run around the block and still make the play.I believe Nick Reviez ran something like a 5.3 40yd and yet he led the team in tackles. He had great aptitude and knew the game well. We get these high school kids in here who dont know basics and try to teach them an NFL level defense. Is it any wonder one minute we look great the next we look helpless. Aptitude - Football intelligence - Putting more emphasis on what a kids GPA is and not his 40 will likely do us alot more good. Vandy rushed 3 guys that were at least 3 inches shorter 40lbs lighter and a step slower and they sacked Bray more than anyone had all year..... Aptitude

BigOrangeRock writes:

Goodbye ye who was hired by he who was hired by Hamilton, who is from Alabama.

Goodbye.

tulelakevol writes:

Well, bye.

WoodstockVol writes:

Classy guy, worked hard but didn't get the results. Love the picture. Reminds me of the Little Rascals. "Give 'em the High Sign, Spanky!"

SummittsCourt writes:

When Phil Fulmer hired Dave Clawson after Cutclift left again he intended to change the offensive scheme into a spread offense. This is why he hired Clawson. The problem was the offensive didn't have the players to run that type of scheme. It was more of a long term hire.

Same with Dooley hiring Sunseri - it was a long term hire even though the change in defensive scheme was risky for the same reason.

We'll never know how good the spread offense would have worked with Clawson running it with the right players and we will never know how good the 3-4 defense would be with Sunseri running it with the right players.

I guess there is just not enough patience these days anymore.

NeylandWest writes:

Thanks Coach Sal! You took a risk and you tried. When other coaches (7) decided to bail on us after last season, things did not look good for Vol Nation.

I'll go back further. When Dooley was hired, zero big-named coaches were beating down our doors begging to coach here. It drives me crazy that people overlook that!

No, I'm not a "Dooley fan". I am a TN alum and a TN fan. I want what is right and just. I wish people would remember that Dooley didn't kill this program. It was poisoned years earlier. And Dooley just had the audacity to come in here and take a risk, try to fix it and do what no one else wanted to do at that time.

Coach Sal tried the same thing. I applaud them for their efforts and wish them the best. I'm sorry it didn't work out for them and for us.

Best of luck to this staff! Hope all of Vol Nation has a great Thanksgiving. Say a prayer for me and the boys over here in Asscrackistan. A special thanks to the USO and others that take care of us and make deployments easier, especially when they give us tv's to watch the games back home.

Y'all take care and Go Vols!

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

The reality is that we owe Sal a lot. Afterall, he got Doolittle fired. I'd shake his hand for that one alone! 700 plus yards against Troy! LMAO. My Grandmother could have moved the ball against this defense.

pcorange writes:

Unlike some of the posters here, I thought it was time to move on, but there has never been any personal hatred of these coaches on my part. Coach Sal handled this in a very classy way. Best of luck to you in the future, coach.

crappieking writes:

You people don't too sorry for him. He will leave with a huge amount of money. For what I don't know. The worst defense I can remember.

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

in response to volnbig11land:

He was classy with his comments, please do the same Vol nation.

Every school's fan base has a certain amount of lunatics living on the edge of total insanity. Unfortunately the first poster after yours proved my point. Most reasonably intelligent people can figure out who they are and not respond to their rantings.

Volunatic writes:

in response to BigOrangeRock:

Goodbye ye who was hired by he who was hired by Hamilton, who is from Alabama.

Goodbye.

Hamilton was gone by the time Sunseri was hired.

pcorange writes:

in response to NeylandWest:

Thanks Coach Sal! You took a risk and you tried. When other coaches (7) decided to bail on us after last season, things did not look good for Vol Nation.

I'll go back further. When Dooley was hired, zero big-named coaches were beating down our doors begging to coach here. It drives me crazy that people overlook that!

No, I'm not a "Dooley fan". I am a TN alum and a TN fan. I want what is right and just. I wish people would remember that Dooley didn't kill this program. It was poisoned years earlier. And Dooley just had the audacity to come in here and take a risk, try to fix it and do what no one else wanted to do at that time.

Coach Sal tried the same thing. I applaud them for their efforts and wish them the best. I'm sorry it didn't work out for them and for us.

Best of luck to this staff! Hope all of Vol Nation has a great Thanksgiving. Say a prayer for me and the boys over here in Asscrackistan. A special thanks to the USO and others that take care of us and make deployments easier, especially when they give us tv's to watch the games back home.

Y'all take care and Go Vols!

It wasn't that there weren't good coaches that would have taken the job, they weren't going to take it at $2M a year. For a good, SEC caliber coach, $2M is about a third of what they can get. If we had been serious about competing, getting a coach instead of a bargain would have been our priority. I hope we've learned a lesson so that we don't repeat our mistakes of the past.

BigOrangeRock writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Hamilton was gone by the time Sunseri was hired.

Read it again.

Volunatic writes:

in response to NeylandWest:

Thanks Coach Sal! You took a risk and you tried. When other coaches (7) decided to bail on us after last season, things did not look good for Vol Nation.

I'll go back further. When Dooley was hired, zero big-named coaches were beating down our doors begging to coach here. It drives me crazy that people overlook that!

No, I'm not a "Dooley fan". I am a TN alum and a TN fan. I want what is right and just. I wish people would remember that Dooley didn't kill this program. It was poisoned years earlier. And Dooley just had the audacity to come in here and take a risk, try to fix it and do what no one else wanted to do at that time.

Coach Sal tried the same thing. I applaud them for their efforts and wish them the best. I'm sorry it didn't work out for them and for us.

Best of luck to this staff! Hope all of Vol Nation has a great Thanksgiving. Say a prayer for me and the boys over here in Asscrackistan. A special thanks to the USO and others that take care of us and make deployments easier, especially when they give us tv's to watch the games back home.

Y'all take care and Go Vols!

I agree.
They tried to be good coaches. I don't blame them for accepting the ridiculously high buyouts written into their contracts. Best of luck to them in the future.

VolzsFan writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Hamilton was gone by the time Sunseri was hired.

correct. Sal was a HART HIRE!!!

Volunatic writes:

in response to NeylandWest:

Thanks Coach Sal! You took a risk and you tried. When other coaches (7) decided to bail on us after last season, things did not look good for Vol Nation.

I'll go back further. When Dooley was hired, zero big-named coaches were beating down our doors begging to coach here. It drives me crazy that people overlook that!

No, I'm not a "Dooley fan". I am a TN alum and a TN fan. I want what is right and just. I wish people would remember that Dooley didn't kill this program. It was poisoned years earlier. And Dooley just had the audacity to come in here and take a risk, try to fix it and do what no one else wanted to do at that time.

Coach Sal tried the same thing. I applaud them for their efforts and wish them the best. I'm sorry it didn't work out for them and for us.

Best of luck to this staff! Hope all of Vol Nation has a great Thanksgiving. Say a prayer for me and the boys over here in Asscrackistan. A special thanks to the USO and others that take care of us and make deployments easier, especially when they give us tv's to watch the games back home.

Y'all take care and Go Vols!

Thanks for your service. I hope and pray that you get to return home safely very soon.

laraccoon writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

some people attempt things in life ,some will succeed and some will fail .some talk a big game via a keyboard anonymously giving the impression they could do better yet running their pie hole is as far as they get. which one are you ? the only way to never fail is to never try anything . I am sure Dooley is bothered everyday that he didnt impress you.

BigBadVol writes:

in response to crappieking:

You people don't too sorry for him. He will leave with a huge amount of money. For what I don't know. The worst defense I can remember.

Are you as illiterate as your post suggest? The class envy crowd is everywhere.

vq4nfo writes:

Hart was influential in Sal being hired when CDD was looking for a new defensive look. They players just needed more time to figure out to read the many schemes.
Good luck Sal

NeylandWest writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Thanks for your service. I hope and pray that you get to return home safely very soon.

It's my honor to serve, but I wish they'd deploy me to Fiji, Hawaii or some other tropical place! :)

In times past, I lucked out and got to be home for the big holidays. This time around I wasn't so lucky, but it's all good. My unit should be home by summer 2013. Eat a turkey leg for me!

traderjoe writes:

in response to gillblog:

Poor guy. I hope he can get some sleep now.

LOL...yeah, those 18 hour days would've eventually adversely affected his coaching.

CrankE writes:

Alabama apparently doesn't have any regrets either.

With a buyout like that, I too would be as gracious ... as heck!

Thanks for helping us get rid of Dooley. Mission Accomplished, babe! Now go back to Alabama, torpedo Saban for us, and tell 'em CrankE sent ya!

Colts_VolFan writes:

Woop Woop Woop. Nyuck nyuck nyuck. Certainly.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

in response to BigBadVol:

Are you as illiterate as your post suggest? The class envy crowd is everywhere.

Obama plans to level the playing field. No more sticking it to the man.

Greeneyes67 writes:

Sorry Sal you should have done and thought this for a long time. Now its just too late
You need to take you chin feathers go back where u came from

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

in response to BigBadVol:

Are you as illiterate as your post suggest? The class envy crowd is everywhere.

Free phones for everyone!

NoogaVol55 writes:

in response to tennisvol:

Thanks Sal. If you are not retained, best of luck to you and your family.

'If you are not retained?'

You can't be serious with the implication that there is even an after thought that he would be retained. If the new coach keeps Sal, my head will explode.

VolsFanInAfghanistan writes:

in response to NeylandWest:

Thanks Coach Sal! You took a risk and you tried. When other coaches (7) decided to bail on us after last season, things did not look good for Vol Nation.

I'll go back further. When Dooley was hired, zero big-named coaches were beating down our doors begging to coach here. It drives me crazy that people overlook that!

No, I'm not a "Dooley fan". I am a TN alum and a TN fan. I want what is right and just. I wish people would remember that Dooley didn't kill this program. It was poisoned years earlier. And Dooley just had the audacity to come in here and take a risk, try to fix it and do what no one else wanted to do at that time.

Coach Sal tried the same thing. I applaud them for their efforts and wish them the best. I'm sorry it didn't work out for them and for us.

Best of luck to this staff! Hope all of Vol Nation has a great Thanksgiving. Say a prayer for me and the boys over here in Asscrackistan. A special thanks to the USO and others that take care of us and make deployments easier, especially when they give us tv's to watch the games back home.

Y'all take care and Go Vols!

Very well written. This is what the Vol Nation should sound like. Things didn't go according to plan, but we'll get back and we'll be better for it. Happy Thanksgiving to a fellow brother spending time chewing the same dirt in the Stan as you.

exlineman writes:

in response to GlennFordsFoible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

NeylandWest writes:

in response to VolsFanInAfghanistan:

Very well written. This is what the Vol Nation should sound like. Things didn't go according to plan, but we'll get back and we'll be better for it. Happy Thanksgiving to a fellow brother spending time chewing the same dirt in the Stan as you.

Hooooooah!!!!!

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to GlennFordsFoible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It was a few Dooley haters like yourself who first theorized that Hart "hand picked" Sal to replace Dooley by mid season. You all are just sad,wretched, miscreants with a Shiite vs. Sunni mentality. If there were no real Vol fans here for you to fight with, you would fight with each other.

exlineman writes:

in response to 45ReVOLver:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Laydbakvol writes:

At the very least he deserves a different photo. The one above the article is a little overused.

exlineman writes:

in response to 45ReVOLver:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

frblalack writes:

in response to NeylandWest:

It's my honor to serve, but I wish they'd deploy me to Fiji, Hawaii or some other tropical place! :)

In times past, I lucked out and got to be home for the big holidays. This time around I wasn't so lucky, but it's all good. My unit should be home by summer 2013. Eat a turkey leg for me!

NeylandWest,

My Dad was career military & served in three wars. I pray you'll be safe these holidays, and keep the faith. The Vols will come back!

Thanks again for your service to our great country!

All Vols

UTVolWarrior98 writes:

Exlineman, tell me what he said that was so bad? lol He said he was a coach in over his head just like Dooley was. The truth hurts..quit being so damn soft and hanging with those spray-painting soccer Moms.

63vet (Inactive) writes:

in response to prowler_tf34#460385:

Action's speak louder than words, He's a good liar!

Here's another one who's probably never been to Knoxville.

rtrchatt writes:

Coach Sal, come on back to Alabama, take an unpaid position and watch your son the last 2 yrs in his career. Saban knows you can coach and UT writes the monthly check. Happy Thanksgiving Volnation and Roll Tide.

bbmon13#478091 writes:

Nice comments - at least they are not laced with screaming four letter expletives - perhaps he should speak to and coach his players with the same class and dignity that he projects to the media.

mytrifecta writes:

Well said Sal. Like all the coaches on this staff, i wish you well. It's not lack of effort or coachimg knowledge that led to the situation we're in...unfortunately this coaching staff boarded a sinking ship and couldn't bail water quick enough.

jack4444 writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

When Phil Fulmer hired Dave Clawson after Cutclift left again he intended to change the offensive scheme into a spread offense. This is why he hired Clawson. The problem was the offensive didn't have the players to run that type of scheme. It was more of a long term hire.

Same with Dooley hiring Sunseri - it was a long term hire even though the change in defensive scheme was risky for the same reason.

We'll never know how good the spread offense would have worked with Clawson running it with the right players and we will never know how good the 3-4 defense would be with Sunseri running it with the right players.

I guess there is just not enough patience these days anymore.

Fulmer had a commitment from Tahj Boyd. Wasn't Kiffin's type but would have fit that Clawfense. I've seen it few times since he's been at BG and altho it's better than here, it's not a big play offense, more move the chains.

orangecountyvols writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features