GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In Sal Sunseri’s well-traveled coaching career, he’s reached the pinnacle of college football three times while winning two national championships as the linebackers coach Alabama and one working with the defensive ends at Florida State.
The chance to add to that total was a major reason he’s now at Florida as the Gators’ new defensive line coach, he said.
“When you get an opportunity to come to the University of Florida, I believe you have to take that opportunity because there’s some outstanding tradition here,” Sunseri said this week in his first meeting with local media. “They’ve won national championships. I’m blessed enough to have three of those rings on my finger and it’s not enough, so I want to have a chance to do that. [Florida coach Dan] Mullen has two rings on that finger. So to come back here, to go at a great place, a great institution and get a chance to win a national championship, that’s what it’s all about.”
WATCH: New Florida DL coach Sal Sunseri meets the local media.
Posted by Florida Gators – SEC Country on Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Sunseri spent the last three seasons as the linebackers coach with the Oakland Raiders, his second stint in the NFL after coaching with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-08 (mostly as DL coach).
In addition to his time with the Crimson Tide (2009-11) and the ACC’s Seminoles (2013-14), Sunseri has also worked in the SEC with LSU (2000) and Tennessee (2012) among other coaching stops.
While he had never actually worked with new Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, he says they’ve maintained a connection throughout their careers, which also led to this opportunity now in Gainesville.
“We’ve always been close. I can remember going back when I interviewed on the Michigan State [staff] when he was with Coach Saban, and we’ve just stayed in touch with each other,” Sunseri said. “We never had the chance to work with each other. We coached against each other. We have a place at the lake, where he has a house and I have a house and we always share ideas. So this opportunity came up, and you know, being out there with the Raiders and what went down with the Raiders, he called me.”
As he makes the transition back to the college ranks, Sunseri said he brought with him tape of the top sack getters in the NFL to show Florida’s defensive linemen their techniques, how they use their hands and move their feet.
For that matter, he believes his NFL experience is an added asset he brings to this coaching staff and to the young players he’ll help mold.
“I think that’s where I can relate to these kids and understand I’ve been to where you want to get to, and I want to tell you the secret to it is really simple,” Sunseri said. “You need to work hard, you need to show fast-twitch muscle fibers, show that you can play with the quickness because every time you move up in the level of football from the SEC to the National Football League, that’s the best offensive linemen that you’re going to play against. The SEC, in my opinion, there’s some pretty good talent here, but when you move up to that next level, they’re all good.”
As for those young Florida linemen he’ll start working with next month during spring practice, Sunseri said Tuesday he was still getting up to speed on the roster.
As far as he’s concerned, “there’s no depth chart” at this point.
The process is just beginning, but after seeing what Mullen did over his nine seasons at Mississippi State, Sunseri believes in where the program here is heading.
“What Coach Mullen did at Mississippi State, I have high respect for. Because I was in that side of the SEC. I was at a different place. As you can see him there, they were getting better and better every single year,” he said. “… The bottom line is that Coach Mullen knows what it takes to win in the SEC, and that’s what we’re going to do is teach these guys how to win and take care of our own side of the SEC.”
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