Coaches

Sal Sunseri
Linebackers

10th Season in NFL

3rd Season with Raiders

Sal Sunseri enters his third season with the Silver and Black as linebackers coach. A 33-year coaching veteran, Sunseri begins his 10th season in the NFL. 

Under Sunseri in 2016, LB Malcolm Smith led the team in tackles for the second straight year with 115 (87 solo). Smith appeared in 15 games and finished with one interception, six passes defensed and tied a career-high two forced fumbles. Veteran LB Perry Riley Jr., who joined the team a quarter of the way into the season, proved to be a great addition for the Raiders in his first season, as he finished with 62 tackles (45) in just 11 games. Free agent signee LB Bruce Irvin tied for first in the NFL with six forced fumbles while setting a career-high 61 tackles (46) in his first year with the Silver and Black. Sunseri guided rookie LB Cory James, who emerged as a significant contributor in 2016. James appeared in all 16 games with five starts and recorded 48 tackles (38) with one forced fumble.

Under Sunseri’s tutelage in 2015, free agent signee Smith led Oakland in tackles in his first year with the team, recording a career-high 143. Smith helped solidify the Raiders’ linebacking corps, starting all 16 games and playing nearly every defensive snap. Smith finished with four sacks, good for second on the team. Sunseri helped develop rookie LBs Neiron Ball and Ben Heeney as they made substantial contributions in their first year. Ball emerged as a starter at outside linebacker before injuring his knee in Week 7, totaling nine tackles (four), one sack and one pass defensed in six games with two starts. Heeney played in 15 games with three starts and earned 39 tackles (28), 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble.

Prior to joining the Raiders, Sunseri spent two years at Florida State. There, Sunseri helped Florida State complete a 13-1 Rose Bowl campaign in 2014 and an undefeated (14-0) BCS National Championship season in 2013. Following the 2013 season, Sunseri was promoted to head coach of defense while continuing to serve as defensive ends coach. The 2014 Seminole defense was key to Florida State’s school- and ACC-record 29-game winning streak, which tied for the 12th longest streak in NCAA history. Seven FSU defenders were named to the All-ACC team in 2014, including current Raider DE Mario Edwards Jr. Edwards Jr. led the team with 11 tackles for loss and also had three sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

Overall, Florida State went 28-1 with Sunseri as an assistant coach, as he joined the team prior to the 2013 Orange Bowl. The 2013 National Championship marked Sunseri’s third BCS title in five years, following his 2009 and 2011 championship runs at Alabama. The defensive ends, coached by Sunseri, had monumental success in 2013. The Seminole defense also ranked No. 1 in scoring defense (12.1 points per game) and No. 3 in total defense (281.4 yards per game). Jones collected All-ACC Second-Team accolades and finished with 56 tackles, eight tackles for loss and a team-best six quarterback pressures, while Edwards Jr. was named to the All-ACC Third Team and finished with 28 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Sunseri served as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator in 2012. With the Vols, Sunseri coached two of the nation’s top defensive players in LB A.J. Johnson and CB Byron Moore. Johnson was fourth in the nation and led the SEC with an average of 11.5 tackles per game. Moore was tied for 11th in the nation in interceptions, leading the SEC in that category.

Prior to Tennessee, Sunseri spent three years as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach at the University of Alabama under Nick Saban, including the 2009 and 2011 National Championship teams. The 2011 Crimson Tide outside linebackers flourished under Sunseri and contributed to the overall success of the defense. Lombardi and Butkus Award finalist OLB 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 LB Dont’a Hightower garnered second-team All-SEC honors with 69 tackles and nine quarterback hurries. Upshaw led the Crimson Tide with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, and was named the MVP of the Capital One Bowl.

In Sunseri’s first season at Alabama in 2009, he helped guide the Crimson 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. The Alabama defense generated 32 sacks and 98 tackles for loss, despite losing Hightower to an early-season injury.

Sunseri spent seven years (2002-08) with the Carolina Panthers under then-head coach John Fox, a tenure that included the franchise’s first NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance. He joined the Panthers as a defensive assistant in 2002, then took over as defensive line coach in 2003. His defensive line with the Panthers was regarded as one of the best in the NFL. DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker and DT Kris Jenkins earned Pro Bowl honors during his tenure. Sunseri 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 fewest yards allowed in four of his seven seasons.

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.

 

PERSONAL: Native of Pittsburgh, Pa. …Began his playing career at the University of Pittsburgh in 1978 as a walk-on…Finished his career as 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…Anchored a defensive unit that led the NCAA in total defense in 1980 and 1981...Was the defensive MVP in the 1982 Senior Bowl…Selected in the 10th round (276th overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1982 NFL Draft…Pro career was cut short by a knee injury in training camp...Received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Pittsburgh in 1982…He and his wife, Roxann, have two daughters, Jaclyn and Ashlyn, and two sons, Santino and Vinnie...Ashlyn is a volleyball player at UAB…Santino played quarterback at Pittsburgh and spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons as a quarterback in the CFL for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the 2013 Grey Cup Champions and is now a quality control coach at Florida State…Vinnie played defensive back at Alabama before being drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2014 and playing in nine games as a rookie.

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