Other than saying it was just a change in philosophy, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney gave no real indication during his weekly teleconference on Sunday why he parted ways with Kevin Steele as his defensive coordinator following the 2011 season.
Of course rumors circulated following Steele’s departure that it had to with his health and the 70 points Clemson allowed in its Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia. Regardless of the reason, Swinney said it was a very difficult decision because he had, and still has, a tremendous amount of respect for his former defensive coordinator.
“He is a great football coach. He is a great man with a great family that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and love for,” Swinney said.
Swinney credits Steele, who second-ranked Clemson will face this coming Saturday when the Tigers open the season at Auburn, for playing a role in Clemson’s success the last five years.
“Coach Steele was a huge part in us laying a foundation here in ’09, ’10 and ’11. He helped us win our first ACC Championship in 20 years,” the Clemson head coach said. “I have a great amount of respect for who he is and his work ethic, all of those things. It is always difficult when there is a change. But it was a situation that I felt like he needed a change and I needed a change and that is kind of what happened.
“That has nothing to do with how I feel about him as a man and as a coach. It is pretty obvious the type of respect I have for Coach Steele and the type of coach he is.”
Steele will begin his first season as Auburn’s defensive coordinator on Saturday after replacing Will Muschamp, who is now the head coach at South Carolina. Before coming to Auburn, he was the defensive coordinator at LSU for one season and before that he was at Alabama for two seasons as the linebackers coach and special assistant to the head coach. In 2013, he served as Alabama’s Director of Player Personnel.
Though Clemson fans seem to remember the 70 points Steele’s defense gave up to West Virginia and the big runs South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw had in the 2011 game, and the same runs TCU quarterback Andy Dalton had in 2009, for the most part Steele’s defenses were quite successful at Clemson.
His 2010 defense, led the ACC and ranked No. 13 nationally in points allowed, surrendering 18.8 points per game. His 2009 defense ranked third in the ACC, yielding just 314.3 yards per game. That was good enough for 20th in the country as well.
“You do not get jobs at Alabama, LSU and places like Auburn if you are not a heck of a coach, and that is what he is,” Swinney said. “When we made a change here, he still had three years left on his contract. That is the type of respect we had for Kevin, and that I still have for Kevin.”
Before coming to Clemson, Steele was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Alabama, and prior to that he coached the linebackers for four years at Florida State under Bobby Bowden.
“This guy has an incredible background and track record for many, many years. He has worked with some of the greatest programs and coaches around,” Swinney said. “Again, you do not have those types of jobs without having great respect as a coach.”
Swinney says he, nor anyone else, is surprised to see Steele as the defensive coordinator at Auburn.
“There are changes and differences in philosophy that come along, but that does not have anything to do with a person’s ability to coach,” Swinney said. “I have been on both sides of that and I understand that. Those are always difficult things. It is not a surprise to me at all, and anybody that knows Kevin, knew that he is too good of a coach for somebody not to snatch him up, and not only to just work, but to put him back in a big-time leadership role.”