By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer
Jeremy Pruitt is reportedly adding former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to his staff. The financials of the deal or the specific role are both unknown at the time.
Tennessee currently has a defensive line coaching position open while inside linebacker Brian Niedermeyer’s contract expires at the end of the month.
Newly-named Auburn coach Bryan Harsin brought in former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason to run his defense last week – thus putting Steele out of work. Just over a year ago, Auburn made Steele the nation’s highest-paid assistant coach at $2.5 million annually over a three-year extension through the 2022 season.
Prior to taking the Tennessee gig, Auburn was to pay Steele $5.2 million in monthly installments through January of 2023. The amount the Vols sign the 62-year-old for will be subtracted from the total.
The move comes a week after ESPN reported the university placed a hiring freeze on the football program as it continues to navigate through a lengthy internal investigation into alleged impermissible recruiting violations.
The investigation is still ongoing.
Steele could take over a position group for the Volunteers that was oversaw by head coach Jeremy Pruitt last season for the final six games – following the firing of former defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh four games into his two-year contract agreement.
It received a big boost Monday afternoon when senior leader Matthew Butler announce his intentions on returning for the 2021 campaign. Senior Darel Middleton declared earlier this fall that he would return also, but the plans are still unclear on what fellow seniors Aubrey Solomon, LaTrell Bumphus and Ja’Quain Blakely will do with the extra year of eligibility.
Steele will also have returning lettermen Elijah Simmons, Omari Thomas, Kurrott Garland, Greg Emerson and John Mincey to work with in 2021, with the additions of Dominic Bailey and RJ Perry – who combined for one appearance in their true freshmen seasons.
Four-star KaTron Evans and three-star Isaac Washington signed with Tennessee in December as defensive linemen.
Jimmy Hyams is reporting the hire would likely to be to coach linebackers where sophomore Henry To’o To’o had little help following the loss of Daniel Bituli from last year’s squad.
BREAKING NEWS: Tennessee has hired Kevin Steele to be an assistant on the defensive staff, sources said. Steele, a former UT assistant (1987-88) and player (1978-79), will likely coach linebackers. It is not known if he will carry a title, such as co-DC or assistant head coach.
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) January 12, 2021
Regardless, the unit was a disappointment in 2020 after surging late in the 2019 season. Tennessee’s defensive line helped aid the fifth-best rush defense (141.6 yds/game) in the SEC but failed to put pressure on the quarterback – finishing with only 20 sacks in 10 games (9th in SEC).
The Vols were picked on in the passing game all year long – surrendering 265.8 passing yards per game (11th in SEC). Failing to rush the passer did not help an injury-plagued and underperforming secondary in 2020.
Steele is a Tennessee guy – playing for the Volunteers in the late 1970s before breaking into coaching as a student-assistant in 1980. He was a graduate assistant on Then Hill the following seasons before coaching the outside linebackers in 1982.
After making stops as a defensive assistant at New Mexico State and Oklahoma State, Steele returned to Knoxville to coach the defensive backs for two seasons in 1987 and 1988. He then made two more pitstops that included a four-year stint with the Carolina Panthers, before taking over as head coach at Baylor in 1999.
As Baylor’s head man, Steele’s record was 9-36, including a 1-31 mark n Big 12 conference play.
Steele then made stops at Florida State, Alabama, Clemson and LSU before landing in Auburn as defensive coordinator in 2016.
In his first four years with the Tigers, Steele’s units ranked in the nation’s top-20 for scoring defense. He was also a finalist for the Tennessee head coaching vacancy in 2017.
Steele and Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt spent time together on Alabama’s staff.