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 moving divisions and has joined the Tennessee coaching staff as a defensive assistant.
"Kevin is someone I have respected and admired for a long time on and off the field," Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said, "I had the opportunity to learn and work with him during our time at Alabama and our friendship grew from there. He has outstanding knowledge of the game and understands what it takes to be successful in this conference. Having coached under the great Johnny Majors, he has a sincere appreciation for what it means to be a Tennessee Volunteer. We are thrilled to welcome Kevin and Linda back to Rocky Top."
Steele hasn't been assigned a specific position group to coach, while Derrick Ansley is still the defensive coordinator of the Vols. Steele's move to Rocky Top will serve as a homecoming for the 1981 graduate of Tennessee.
"Linda and I are excited to be coming home," Steele said. "Tennessee is a special place to me personally. I am truly grateful to Coach Pruitt and Coach Fulmer for this opportunity, and I am eager to get to work alongside them once again. I look forward to helping create an environment where our players are successful and truly embrace what it means to be a Volunteer."
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.