Sal Sunseri has a long history of success coaching in the SEC and the NFL over the course of a 29-year span and he used that experience to help Florida State complete an undefeated 14-0 season that culminated with a BCS National Championship in 2013. It marked Sunseri's third BCS National Championship in five years, following his 2009 and 2011 championship runs as the assistant head coach for defense at Alabama.
Following the 2013 season, Sunseri was promoted to head coach of defense where he will assist defensive coordinator Charles Kelly with game-planning, while continuing as the defensive ends coach.
Sunseri, who joined Jimbo Fisher's staff in time to coach in the 2013 Orange Bowl, has been a defensive coordinator, assistant head coach at Alabama for Nick Saban and a seven-year defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers of the NFL.
Sunseri's engaging coaching style and sharp knowledge on the defensive side of the ball was a huge factor in Florida State winning its third national championship in the 2013 season. Responsible for the play of Florida State's defensive ends, the constant pressure put on opposing quarterbacks by converted end Christian Jones and high-profile performer Mario Edwards Jr. helped the Noles finish first in the country in allowing just 156.6 passing yards per game. The Seminole defense also ranked No. 1 in scoring defense (12.1 ppg) and No. 3 in total defense (281.4 ypg). Jones collected All-ACC Second Team accolades and finished with 56 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and a team-best six quarterback pressures, while Edwards was named to the All-ACC Third Team and finished with 28 tackles, including 9.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks. His finest performance came in the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn, where he totaled a career-best 3.0 tackles for loss and had a sack against the Tigers.
Jones signed a professional contract with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 NFL Draft.
Edwards is expected to be one of the nation's most destructive forces at defensive end in 2014.
Sunseri joined Florida State after serving as the defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2012. With the Vols, Sunseri coached two of the nation's top defensive players. Linebacker A.J. Johnson was fourth in the nation and led the SEC averaging 11.5 tackles per game. Cornerback Byron Moore was tied for 11th in the nation in interceptions and he led the Southeastern Conference in that category.
Prior to Tennessee, he spent three years as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Alabama under Saban, including the 2009 and 2011 national championship teams. He also spent seven years (2002-08) with the Carolina Panthers under then-head coach and current Denver Broncos coach John Fox, a tenure that included the franchise's lone NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance.
A former All-American linebacker at Pittsburgh, Sunseri joined the Alabama staff in January of 2009 after serving as the defensive line coach with the NFL's Carolina Panthers. As a member of the Crimson Tide staff, he held the title of assistant head coach for defense and coached the outside linebackers.
The 2011 outside linebackers flourished under Sunseri and contributed to the overall success of the defense. Lombardi and Butkus Award finalist Courtney Upshaw led the way with 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, which ranked second and fourth, respectively, in the SEC. Sunseri was also recognized individually for his contributions when he was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, presented to the nation's top assistant coach.
In 2010, Sunseri continued to build on his solid foundation from the National Championship season. The defensive unit ranked third in the country in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. Sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower garnered second-team All-SEC honors with 69 tackles (second on the team) and nine quarterback hurries. Upshaw led the Tide from his jack linebacker spot with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks and was named the MVP of the Capital One Bowl after recording five tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in the 49-7 win over No. 7 Michigan State.
In Sunseri's first season at Alabama, he helped guide the Tide to the National Championship behind a dominant defense that ranked second nationally in four major categories - rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. His NFL experience with the pass rush helped Alabama generate 32 sacks and 98 tackles for loss, despite losing Hightower to an early-season injury. Alabama was also well-represented on the AP All-America team with three defenders earning first-team honors, including Butkus winner Rolando McClain.
Sunseri's defensive line with the Panthers was regarded as one of the best in the NFL. Defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins earned Pro Bowl honors during his tenure. He produced at least one Pro Bowl defensive lineman five times as the 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.
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 accounted for 32.5 of the team's 40 total sacks and also produced a pair of Pro Bowl players in Jenkins and Rucker, setting the standard for which his future units would be measured.
Prior to his time at Carolina, Sunseri worked as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Michigan State in 2001 after spending 2000 on Saban's LSU staff in the same capacity. He was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Alabama A&M in 1998 and 1999 after three seasons as the linebackers coach at Louisville. Sunseri's climb of the coaching ladder included one-year stops at Illinois State (1994) and Iowa Wesleyan (1993). He broke into coaching at his alma mater, Pittsburgh, in 1985 and directed the defensive line and linebackers before being named assistant head coach in 1992.
Sunseri began his playing 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 was 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 (a former quarterback at Pittsburgh) and Vinnie (a former defensive back at Alabama).