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Saban Wonders Why The Hubbub About Kiffin’s Visit To Alabama

saban-kiffinNick Saban doesn’t understand the hoopla surrounding Lane Kiffin’s visit this week to Tuscaloosa.  Alabama’s coach has had other coaches visit his program for gab sessions in the past, so in his view, bringing in the ex-Southern Cal coach for a chat is no big deal.

And he’s right.

There are two places in the Southeastern Conference that might balk at a Kiffin drop-in but Bama isn’t one of them.  His one-year stay at the University of Tennessee should preclude the 38-year-old coach from a Knoxville visit.  When he left town a students flirted with a riot, a mattress was burned — why? — and someone allegedly called his home and threatened to eat his children.  So, no, Butch Jones probably won’t invite Kiffin for a visit.

A few Florida fans would like to see Kiffin take over as offensive coordinator for Will Muschamp’s Gators — again, why? — but after he wrongly accused then-UF coach Urban Meyer of cheating on the recruiting trail, it’s doubtful Lil’ Lane will get an offer from Gainesville.

Alabama?  Hell, he didn’t do anything to Alabama.  Aside from take an undermanned team to Tuscaloosa in 2009 and lose on a blocked field goal.  If not for that last-play-of-the-game block, Bama’s first BCS title under Saban might not have come until later.  Saban saw Kiffin’s work up close and personal for one game and apparently came away impressed.  For that reason, the coach wonders what’s the biggie?


“Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for him.  Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit to get some professional ideas with our guys is a really positive thing…

I can’t believe there’s been any reaction to it.  Just about every year we have coaches come in and do what we call ‘professional development-type things.’  We exchange ideas.”


Saban pointed out that Oklahoma’s staff — the guys his Crimson Tide staff will be up against in the Sugar Bowl — have been in for a visit, too.

One other thing that might make Saban more interested in bringing Kiffin to town than, say, Tennessee or Florida?  The young coach made it very clear during his layover in Knoxville that he had a great deal of respect for Saban and his staff.  When he joined ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew on the morning of the ’09 Alabama/Florida SEC Championship Game, Kiffin picked Alabama to win.  His rationale — Florida had the better players but the Bama team was better coached.  Clearly that comment was a shot at Meyer and a nod to Saban.

So we agree with Alabama’s head man on this one.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

And remember, Saban didn’t hesitate to bring assistant Lance Thompson back onto his staff after he’d left Alabama to join Kiffin’s crew at Tennessee.  If someone can help Saban improve his Alabama program, well, that’s the only thing that matters to the four-time BCS title-winner.

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SEC Headlines – 1/16/12 Part One

1.  The SEC has named its Players of the Week.

2.  As we noted earlier today, Lance Thompson — the man who recruited Trent Richardson to Alabama — is returning to Tuscaloosa as linebackers coach.

3.  Doug Nussmeier continues to be mentioned as the frontrunner for Bama’s offensive coordinator gig.

4.  Bobby Petrino’s got nice things to say — naturally — about Arkansas’ new linebackers coach Taver Johnson.

5.  Petrino has also given his blessing to backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who intends to walk-on with the Hog basketball team.

6.  After “an amazing season,” LSU will look for even bigger, even better things next fall.

7.  But folks on the Bayou aren’t quite done dissecting what went wrong in the Tigers’ 21-0 loss to Alabama a week ago.

7.  Mississippi State’s ongoing billboard campaign — including one smack dab in Oxford — is causing a stir in the Magnolia State.

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Checkmate: Bama’s Saban Takes Thompson Back From UT’s Dooley

The SEC can be a pretty wild place on occasion.  But here’s one that’s out of the ordinary even for this conference.

On Friday, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley announced that he had hired Alabama linebackers coach and assistant head coach Sal Sunseri to be his new defensive coordinator at Tennessee.

During his press conference, he said he didn’t view it as grabbing a guy from his old boss (Saban) because of the nature of the job and the title involved.  It was a step up for Sunseri.

“I told Nick when I called him that it is a hard call because it wasn’t about a Tennessee and Alabama deal… And I was really pleased at how professionally he handled it.  And we have a friendship, too.  So that will never get compromised.  It wasn’t about Tennessee taking anything from Alabama.”

Hold that thought.  Ominously, Dooley also offered this up regarding the relief he felt in making an important coordinator hire:

“You catch your breath for about 30 seconds.  And that’s about how long you got at Tennessee before something else is on the way.”

Fast forward from Friday to Sunday evening — a tad longer than 30 seconds — when news broke that Saban and Alabama were hiring Tennessee defensive line coach Lance Thompson as Sunseri’s replacement.  Presto chango, Dooley’s now lost his sixth assistant this offseason and he’s once again got three holes to fill with signing day fast approaching.

One wonders if Saban called Dooley to simply say, “Checkmate.”

You see, Thompson was on Saban’s staff in Tuscaloosa before joining Lane Kiffin in Knoxville in 2009.  When Kiffin left, Thompson was one of three assistants who didn’t head to Southern Cal with him and one of two (along with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney) who remained at Tennessee.

When Thompson left Bama, Saban hired — wait for it — Sunseri to replace him.  So it’s no wonder Thompson wasn’t thrilled about being passed over for the Vols’ defensive coordinator job… for the guy who replaced him with the Tide.  (Now you see why we hinted at Thompson’s potential departure several times last week.)

Thompson had to look at the situation and wonder if he’d just kept his job on Saban’s staff in 2009 if he wouldn’t have been Dooley’s target for D-coordinator this time around.  He’d also have a pair of BCS title rings.

While Sunseri is getting a promotion to move to Knoxville, Thompson appears to be making a lateral shift.  If he’s given Sunseri’s old “assistant head coach” title it would make the move appear to be at least some form of promotion.  (As if going from a troubled staff at struggling Tennessee to a stable staff at national champ Alabama weren’t promotion enough.)

So now, Tennessee is back trying to fill three vacancies on its staff:

Charlie Baggett — retired (replaced by Jay Graham)
Eric Russell — left for Washington State (open)
Justin Wilcox — left for Washington (replaced by Sunseri)
Peter Sirmon — left for Washington (open)
Harry Hiestand — left for Notre Dame (replaced by Sam Pittman)
Lance Thompson — left for Alabama (open)

And that’s not all the shifting.  Offensive coordinator Chaney will move from running backs to quarterbacks next season.  Quarterback coach Darrin Hinshaw will take over Baggett’s old receivers coaching position.  And Graham will handle the running backs spot given up by Chaney.

So Dooley finally has a roster with depth and experience, but heading into what many believe will be a make or break year, the positive possibilities might be offset by turmoil and turnover on his staff.

Meanwhile, Saban is simply plugging holes because who wouldn’t want to get the words “Alabama” and “Saban” on their resume?  Thompson will get his old job back and replace Sunseri.  Jim McElwain’s old offensive coordinator slot remains open, but sources in Tuscaloosa suggest Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is close to being named McElwain’s replacement.

At Alabama, when one door closes, another one opens.  At Tennessee, when one door opens, Dooley has to check to make sure its not a trapdoor beneath his feet.

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Sunseri Leaves Bama To Join UT Staff

In 2009, it looked like the Tennessee football program would become Southern Cal East.  Now it appears the whole UT athletic department is becoming Alabama North.

Alabama linebackers coach and assistant head coach Sal Sunseri has officially joined the Tennessee staff as defensive coordinator.  The coach landed a three-year deal in Knoxville worth $800,000 per season.

“Sal has had unparalleled success over the last decade in not only contributing to team and unit success, but also in his ability to motivate and develop elite individual talent,” Derek Dooley said via press release.  “His combination of defensive knowledge, recruiting success, high-energy personality, ability to connect with players and personal integrity and character make him an exceptional fit for Tennessee.”

Sunseri — as well as defensive line coach Lance Thompson — coached under Nick Saban at Alabama.  Dooley coached under Saban at LSU and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.  The Tennessee athletic department is headed up by former Tide associate AD Dave Hart and a number of his former UA aides.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

For Dooley, Sunseri is a quality hire.  And a much needed one considering the turnover on his staff in recent weeks.  The fact that the Vols’ new defensive coordinator just won a BCS title with Bama on Monday can’t hurt on a big recruiting weekend.

Now the question is — does Thompson stay or does he bolt for South Carolina?  His name has come up in connection with the Gamecocks’ linebackers vacancy.

Sunseri’s departure from Tuscaloosa leaves Saban with two holes to fill on his staff: offensive coordinator and linebackers.  Brian Schottenheimer, Doug Nussmeier and Dirk Koetter are in the running for the OC job.

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UT Loses Hiestand, Hires Pittman, Waits On Sunseri

Tennessee’s search for a new defensive coordinator has taken several twists and turns in the past two weeks, but grabbing a new offensive line coach was smooth, easy sailing for Derek Dooley. 

Just hours after it was reported that Harry Hiestand would officially be leaving the Vols for Notre Dame, UT announced the hire of Sam Pittman from North Carolina.  Pittman’s reputation as a good recruiter aided Dooley’s decision.

“Sam has an excellent reputation and track record as an offensive line coach and as a recruiter,” UT’s coach said via release.  “He brings a considerable amount to our program as a coach and a person, and we are excited that he is joining our staff.”

Pittman joins new running backs coach Jay Graham (from South Carolina) as the new guys on the Vol staff.  But there will be more. 

Tennessee appears to be waiting on an answer from Alabama assistant head coach and linebackers coach Sal Sunseri about the Vols’ open D-coordinator job.  If he turns it down, it’s believed Navy’s Buddy Green — who interviewed in Knoxville yesterday — will land the position.

Dooley is also waiting on Rich Bisaccia of the San Diego Chargers to accept or turn down UT’s offer of the special teams coordinator position.

And, as we’ve noted before, if current Tennessee defensive lineman coach Lance Thompson is passed over for the coordinator promotion — and all signs suggest he will be — it’s possible that he might listen to other offers.

But for now, Tennessee waits for Sunseri to say yea or nay.

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UT Eyes Bama’s Sunseri For DC Spot

Head coach Derek Dooley worked under Nick Saban at two different stops.  New AD Dave Hart came from Alabama as well (with or without a banjo on his knee).  With Hart came a number of athletic department aides.  Now Tennessee is targeting someone else with ties to the Crimson Tide.

Despite rumors of Randy Shannon being the Vols’ guy last week, Dooley is now set to welcome Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri to Knoxville today.  Sunseri coached with Dooley on Saban’s staff at LSU.  He spent seven years in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers before rejoining Saban in Tuscaloosa in 2009.  He also served as a defensive coordinator at Illinois State and Alabama A&M in the 1990s.

Sunseri — a former Pittsburgh players — was a candidate for the Panthers’ head coaching job last year. 

One has to wonder, however, if Sunseri is truly interested in becoming D-coordinator for the Vols or if he’s simply angling for a raise at Bama.  His son Vinnie (photo of the two together at left) just completed his first season as a Bama defensive back and special teamer.  Would Sunseri leave be willing to leave that set-up?

Dooley hasn’t had an easy time filling the vacancy on his staff.  Brian VanGorder was believed to be a target, but he chose a more stable situation as Auburn’s D-coordinator.  UT couldn’t come to terms with Baylor’s Phil Bennett, either.  Dooley’s job security — and a nice fat multi-year contract for coordinator candidates — have been the issue so far.

Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green and TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas have also reportedly met with Dooley.  If Sunseri, Green or Bumpas lands the job, one wonders if current assistant Lance Thompson might be the next to exit Knoxville as it’s believed he wants the promotion to coordinator.

Stay tuned…

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SEC Headlines – 9/1/11 Part Two

1.  ESPN’s analysts have made their picks and Urban Meyer has tabbed Alabama to win the SEC.

2.  New Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wants his defense to play “physical and fast.”  (As opposed to playing weak and slow.)

3.  Charlie Weis will call plays from the sideline for now.

4.  Gator fans are going to find a shiny, new present under the tree on Saturday.

5.  Georgia might have some inside knowledge of Boise State’s offense.

6.  The Dawgs should also have “a little bit more power up front” on its O-line.

7.  Joker Phillips says Kentucky QB Morgan Newton is “night and day” better than last year’s bowl game.

8.  Tonight’s UK-WKU game in Nashville is still far from a sellout.

9.  First Chuck Norris.  Then Tim Tebow.  Now Jadeveon Clowney.  (It stopped being funny after Norris.)

10.  There are still plenty of seats available for South Carolina’s opener against East Carolina in Charlotte.

11.  Lance Thompson believes his Tennessee D-line will be versatile.

12.  The Vols look to reclaim their old moniker: Wide Receiver U.

13.  Vanderbilt’s players are ready to hit someone after a preseason camp with limited full-contact tackling.

14.  TJ Greenstone brings a starter’s mentality to his role as a backup defensive lineman.

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Bama’s Sunseri Contacted By Fox, Broncos

New Denver Broncos coach John Fox has reached out to Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri – one of Fox’s former assistants with the Carolina Panthers — about joining his latest NFL staff.

Sunseri recently interviewed for but did not get the head coaching job at Pitt, his alma mater.  Fox and Sunseri also worked together as assistants at Pitt from 1986 through 1988.

Sunseri joined Nick Saban’s staff in 2009 to replace the departed Lance Thompson.

Sunseri has a son who has already early enrolled at Bama as a linebacker/safety prospect.

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Alabama’s Sunseri Interviews At Pitt

Reports yesterday had longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley ticketed to Pittsburgh as the Panthers’ third coach in — oh — about three weeks.  Not so say Pitt officials.

Which means Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri is still in the running.

Sunseri pursued the Pitt job when Dave Wannstedt was ousted in December.  But Panthers AD Steve Pederson — the same man who hired Bill Callahan at Nebraska — hired Mike Haywood from Miami of Ohio.  Haywood then quickly got arrested on a domestic violence beef and the job reopened.  (How long before Pederson’s job comes open?)

Sunseri interviewed for the job at his alma mater yesterday.  He was an All-American linebacker at Pitt under Jackie Sherrill in the late-70s/early-80s. 

Sunseri joined Nick Saban’s staff in 2009 replacing Lance Thompson who had moved on to Tennessee.

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Waiting Game Continues Regarding Assistant Coach Moves

When Will Muschamp accepted the head coaching job at Florida ripples spread across the Southeastern Conference:

* Muschamp would hire defensive coordinator and former teammate Kirby Smart from Alabama… thus leaving the Crimson Tide with a hole to fill.

* Muschamp might also make a run at former colleague and Tennessee linebackers coach Lance Thompson… which would send the Vols scrambling for a replacement.

* Some internet rumors also popped up suggesting Muschamp might recruit his buddy Mike Bobo from Georgia to be the Gators’ offensive coordinator.

* And Muschamp’s departure from Texas opened up a job that’s been rumored to have been offered to both Florida’s Teryl Austin and Tennessee’s Justin Wilcox.

That’s a lot of movement.  But not a lick of it has happened yet.

Florida and Texas are two of the five best programs in the country.  Their coaches can take their time on searches and still — for the most part — land the guys they want.  (One big reason: Florida and Texas assistants become head coaches with pretty good regularity.)

In this case, Mack Brown and Muschamp seem to truly be waiting until after the bowl season to make their hires.  That’s smart for both coaches.  Not only can they cherry-pick the best assistants in the nation, but their deep recruiting bases make it unlikely that they’ll suffer on Signing Day.  There’s no rush for UF and UT.  Best to show patience and conduct thorough searches.

Unfortunately, fans of other schools around the SEC will just have to be patient, too.  That means dealing with a few more days of rumors and internet reports linking their current coaches to the openings in Gainesville and Austin. 

For the next week at least, best to keep the Rolaids handy, folks.

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