KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt announced Tuesday that veteran Southeastern Conference coach Kevin Steele has joined the program as a defensive assistant coach.
Steele, a 1981 graduate of the University of Tennessee and former Vols assistant, returns to Rocky Top after serving as the defensive coordinator at Auburn the past five seasons. His units ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense in four out of those five seasons, while producing 12 NFL Draft picks and multiple first-rounders.
“Kevin is someone I have respected and admired for a long time on and off the field,” 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.”
In total, Steele owns 38 years of coaching experience, including 13 years in the SEC and 10 years as a defensive coordinator. Pruitt and Steele reunite after serving on Alabama’s staff together from 2007-08.
“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.”
In 2020, Steele’s unit ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring defense while playing a 10-game conference slate. He also served as interim head coach for the Tigers’ Citrus Bowl contest against Northwestern.
In 2019, Auburn’s defense ranked eighth nationally in both red-zone and third-down defense, allowing only 19.5 points per game against a schedule that featured six 11-win opponents. The 2018 Auburn defense ranked 14th nationally in scoring defense (19.2) and allowed only nine rushing touchdowns. The Tigers ranked in the top 20 nationally in sacks (38) and tackles for loss (96) and were ninth nationally with three interception returns for scores.
The 2017 season saw Steele earn Broyles Award finalist honors as SEC West champion Auburn ranked 14th in total defense and 12th in scoring defense, allowing just 4.67 yards per play, which was eighth-best nationally. The Tigers ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense, 11th in red zone defense and 28th in total defense in his first season of 2017, an improvement of 43 spots over the previous season. The Tigers held eight consecutive opponents without a rushing touchdown, the longest season streak at Auburn since 1957.
Steele served as defensive coordinator and linebacker coach for LSU in 2015, going to Baton Rouge from Alabama, where he spent the 2014 season coaching the Crimson Tide linebackers and special assistant to the head coach. In 2013, he served as Alabama’s director of player personnel. Steele was the defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007 and then held the same position at Clemson for three years from 2009-11. While at Clemson, the Tigers won the 2011 ACC title, their first since 1991. Steele’s 2010 Clemson defense led the ACC and ranked No. 13 nationally in points allowed, surrendering 18.8 points per game.
Steele coached with Bobby Bowden at Florida State for four years (2003-06), serving as the executive head coach for the Seminoles. He was named the Rivals.com National Recruiter of the Year in 2005 at Florida State after helping the Seminoles sign the top class in the country.
Steele joined Florida State after serving as the head coach at Baylor from 1999-2002. Prior to overseeing the Big 12 program, Steele coached linebackers for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL from 1995-98. Under head coach Dom Capers, the Panthers reached the NFC Championship game in their second season (1996).
From 1989-94, Steele coached the linebackers under Nebraska legend Tom Osborne. During his six years in Lincoln, the Cornhuskers went 60-11, appeared in six bowl games, won four conference championships and captured the 1994 national championship with a 13-0 record.
The Dillon, South Carolina, native spent his freshman season at Furman before transferring to Tennessee, where he was a member of Majors’ squads. Steele was a student assistant coach in 1980 and then a graduate assistant the following year (1981) before being promoted to outside linebackers coach in 1982.
He served on Majors’ staff again from 1987-88 as defensive backs coach and was part of a 1987 Vols team that posted a 10-2-1 record, capping the year with a No. 14 national ranking and a Peach Bowl victory.
Steele and his wife, Linda, have a son, Gordon, and a daughter, Caroline. Gordon serves on the football coaching staff at Alabama.
The Kevin Steele File
Hometown: Dillon, South Carolina
Education: Tennessee, 1981
Children: Gordon, Caroline
1980-81: Tennessee, student/graduate assistant
1982: Tennessee, outside linebackers
1983: New Mexico State, linebackers
1984-86: Oklahoma State, linebackers/tight ends
1987-88: Tennessee, defensive backs
1989-94: Nebraska, linebackers
1995-98: Carolina Panthers, linebackers
1999-2002: Baylor, head coach
2003-06: Florida State, linebackers
2007: Alabama, defensive coordinator
2008: Alabama, linebackers
2009-11: Clemson, defensive coordinator/linebackers
2013: Alabama, director player personnel
2014: Alabama, special assistant to the head coach/linebackers
2015: LSU, defensive coordinator/linebackers
2016-20: Auburn, defensive coordinator
2020-21: Auburn, interim head coach
2021-present: Tennessee, defensive assistant coach