After guiding the Auburn football program to the conclusion of the 2020 season and earning attention as a potential candidate to replace Gus Malzahn, former Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is reportedly moving divisions and joining the Tennessee coaching staff. ESPN’s Chris Low is reporting that Steele has agreed to a deal to join the Vols, though the specific position on the staff was not named.
Steele had a successful five-season run as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, earning recognition as a Broyles Award finalist in 2017 as the Tigers won the SEC West and leading another strong unit in 2019. In addition to ranking in the top three in the SEC in yards per play allowed, the 2019 Auburn defense was able to boast being the only unit to hold Joe Burrow and LSU under 30 points.
Upon Auburn’s firing of Malzahn, Steele emerged as a potential candidate to replace him and was reportedly backed by supporters who believed the 62-year old was deserving of a second shot at being a head coach after his 9-36 run at Baylor from 1999-02. Auburn eventually hired Bryan Harsin away from Boise State, and the former Broncos coach proceeded to hire former Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason to be Tigers defensive coordinator.
The news of Tennessee adding Steele is particularly interesting as it comes in the wake of an internal investigation into what the school is calling “regulatory issues” within the football program. Another ESPN report indicated that Tennessee was in a “hiring freeze” until the conclusion of the investigation and had not moved forward on the renewal of assistant coaching contracts set to expire at the end of the month. Steele’s addition to the staff could come in the form of an analyst and be unrelated to those assistant coaching deals, but any news regarding a hire comes with the expectation that the internal investigation is nearing some kind of conclusion.
Not only does Steele have deep SEC ties after stops at Auburn, LSU and Alabama in the last decade, but he’s a former Tennessee linebacker who played for Johnny Majors and started his coaching career in Knoxville.