There have been a few names associated with the search for a defensive coordinator over the last few weeks, from FSU's Charles Kelly, to Penn State's Bob Shoop, to a bunch of other names that came up recently. Through it all, we maintained that no one really knows what's going on except head coach Gus Malzahn.
That appears to be more truthful than I ever knew, as this morning ESPN's Chris Low reported that barring some last second changes, LSU's Kevin Steele will be Auburn's next defensive coordinator.
Barring a late snag, it looks like LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is headed to Auburn for the same position.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) December 30, 2015
It is not, however, a done deal just yet. FootballScoop.com is reporting that LSU wants to keep him. If it's about money, never underestimate the school that pays Cam Cameron more than any other offensive coordinator in the nation.
FootballScoop can confirm Auburn’s offer to Kevin Steele. However, LSU is working to keep him this AM. More-> https://t.co/sNnVtycOD5— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) December 30, 2015
UPDATED: It seems LSU believes they may have kept him.
Source: #LSU coach Les Miles meeting with school officials at team hotel. Tigers believe they've kept Kevin Steele.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) December 30, 2015
UPDATE #2: AL.com says a high-placed source believes that Kevin Steele will be the next defensive coordinator at Auburn.
UPDATE #3: Gus Malzahn confirms in his Birmingham Bowl press conference, and Auburn in a press release, that Kevin Steele has in fact been hired as Will Muschamp's successor at the defensive coordinator position.
Steele, like Auburn linebacker coach Lance Thompson, is a former Nick Saban assistant. He was Saban's first defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007. He was moved to "Associate Head Coach/Head Defensive Coach in 2008" in a strange move. That was Kirby Smart's first year. In 2009 he moved to Clemson to be the defensive coordinator.
The 2008 Alabama defense was one of the tops in the nation. His first defense at Clemson was 20th in total defense, dropping two spots from Clemson's 18th ranked defense in 2008. It moved back up to 19th in 2010 before dropping all the way to 71st in 2011. It did climb back up to 64th in 2012, but a horrific performance in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia led to his firing from Clemson.
He returned to Alabama from there as an off-field assistant in 2013 before returning to the field as a linebackers coach to replace Lance Thompson, who came to Auburn in 2014. He was hired by LSU to be the defensive coordinator for 2015. LSU's 9th ranked 2014 defense fell to 27th in 2015.
This is a puzzling choice, to say the least, if it's confirmed to be 100% true. For one thing, Steele has always coached linebackers. I'm guessing that his roll at Auburn will be similar to Will Muschamp's in that he will not be coaching a position and will hire a secondary coach. One thing that may have led to the decision is Steele's history as a head coach at Baylor. His stint there was less than stellar to say the least, but having experience running his own program may be an important point for Gus Malzahn, who is as hands-off on the defensive side of the ball as its possible for a head coach to be. He wants someone who has experience working on their own.
I can't say that I'm exactly thrilled with this hire. However, I will say that we all know that Gus' future depends on his ability to get the offense turned around much more than how the defense performs. The defense is important, though. A partially decent defense in 2014 would have meant a much better record for the 2014 Tigers. It's worth noting that Steele's defense did a decent job of shutting down one of the nation's top offenses last night in Texas Tech. Many of the Red Raiders' best plays came on broken plays and creations by their talented QB.
Kevin Steele will have a tough go of it on the defensive side of the ball in terms of Auburn's 2016 schedule. It will start with two of his former employers in the first month as Auburn will welcome Clemson and LSU to Jordan-Hare Stadium.