Tennessee has hired Kevin Steele to be an assistant on the defensive staff, according to sources.
Steele, a former Tennessee assistant and player, will likely coach linebackers. It is not known if he will carry a title, such as co-defensive coordinator or assistant head coach.
Steele, 62, was Auburn’s defensive coordinator for the past five years. He was not retained by new Auburn coach Bryan Harsin. Steele has two years left on his Auburn contract that pays him $2.6 million a year.
Whatever Steele is paid by Tennessee would be subtracted from the $5.2 million Auburn owes him.
It had been reported that Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt did not have the authority from UT to hire an assistant considering UT is undergoing an internal investigation from its compliance office for potential NCAA recruiting violations.
While sources said UT approved the hiring of Steele, it is not known if Pruitt has the clearance to hire an offensive line coach after Will Friend left in late December.
Also, Steele would be retained even if UT and Pruitt part ways, sources said.
Steele was one of three finalists for the Tennessee head coaching job in 2017 when Pruitt was hired. Pruitt and Steele are close friends and coached together at Alabama.
Steele has also been considered more than once for defensive coordinator at Tennessee, but one flirtation was nixed because Clemson’s defense allowed 70 points in a bowl game against West Virginia, although not all of the points allowed were the defensive’s fault.
At Auburn, Steele coordinated a defense that ranked among the SEC’s best for several years.
Before joining the Auburn staff, he was defensive coordinator at LSU for one year (2015) and had two different stints at Alabama (2007-08, 2013-14). He was defensive coordinator at Clemson (2009-11). He also had stops at Florida State, Nebraska (which won a national championship in 1994), Tennessee (1987-88), Oklahoma State and New Mexico State.
He spent four years in the NFL as linebacker coach for the Carolina Panthers.
His only head coaching job did not go well. He was 9-36 in four years at Baylor (1999-2002).
A native of Dillon, S.C., Steele played one year at Furman before transferring to Tennessee (1978-79) where he played with good friend John Chavis, also from Dillon.
Pruitt is also looking to replace assistant strength and conditioning coach Mike Farrell, who left in November.