When I read that Head Coach Mario Cristobal hired Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator, I let out a big sigh of relief. After six seasons filled with some highs and many lows under a Manny Diaz led defense, the Miami Hurricanes football team needed a tough, proven, hard-nosed coach on that side of the ball. With Kevin Steele, that is exactly what they got.
"I know Miami football. I've seen it and it's special when it's rolling."— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) February 22, 2022
Next up on Meet The Staff... Coach Kevin Steele. pic.twitter.com/6BgdRPug5U
Kevin Steele began his coaching journey at the University of Tennessee in the early 80s. His first big break was when he was hired to coach linebackers for Nebraska under the great Tom Osborne. During his six-year stint from 1989 to 1994, the Cornhuskers went 60-11, appeared in a bowl game every season, and won the 1994 National Championship. Pretty solid start to a coaching career.
Unsurprisingly, Coach Steele wanted to apply his craft to the NFL. In 1995, Head Coach Dom Capers of the Carolina Panthers, saw that potential and brought him to the expansion team to be their linebackers coach. In just their second season of existence, Carolina made it to the NFC Championship game. This was due in large part to Coach Capers’ innovative “zone blitz” scheme. They also had crazy talent at linebacker: both Sam Mills and Kevin Greene made First Team All-Pro that season. This defensive unit was so intense, Greene once attacked Coach Steele during a heated discussion at practice; Coach Steele did not retaliate. This was all caught on live television! Ah, the 90s. Afterward, Coach Steele said, “Football is an emotional, aggressive game. Those guys are out there fighting. Kevin is a good person. We’ve talked about it and worked it out. That’s all I have to say about it.” Now THAT is a football coach.
In 1999, after four seasons in Carolina, Coach Steele took the considerable challenge of becoming the head football coach of the Baylor Bears. For all the young readers out there, this was long before Art Briles and Robert Griffin III. Baylor was a laughingstock. Oklahoma and Nebraska would slaughter them on a yearly basis. Sadly, this did not change under Coach Steele. Baylor went 9-36 in his four seasons, including 1-31 in conference games. Oof. This did not discourage Coach Steele, and he bounced back to become an elite college football defensive coordinator.
From 2003 to 2006, Coach Steele was the executive head coach (whatever that means) for FSU under Bobby Bowden. The most impressive accomplishment of his time in Tallahassee was being named the National Recruiter of the Year in 2005 by Rivals.com while helping FSU bring in the top ranked recruiting class in the country. This is the first time I was made aware of Coach Steele’s recruiting skills. Obvious statement alert: That is immensely important for a college football assistant coach.
From there, Coach Steele coached for some of the best college football teams in the Southeast. He had two stints with Alabama: 2007 defensive coordinator and 2008 inside linebackers coach. Coach Steele then returned in 2013 as Director of Player Personnel and helped lead them to the number one recruiting class that year. Not bad. Clemson brought Coach Steele on as DC in 2009. In his third and last season, 2011, he helped Clemson win their first ACC Championship since 1991. After coaching Alabama’s linebackers in 2014, he moved on to LSU for a one-season stint as DC.
Coach Steele then settled in with a five-year stretch as Auburn’s defensive coordinator under Head Coach Gus Malzahn, serving from 2016 to 2020. Coach Steele did some of his best work leading the Tigers defense, as he was a 2017 finalist for the Broyles Award honoring the nation’s top assistant coach, and a 2019 semi-finalist for the Broyles Award. Under Coach Steele, Auburn’s defense ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense four of his five seasons. He also helped produce 14 NFL Draft picks, including two first rounders.
With age comes experience. And at 64 years old, Kevin Steele has a ton of meaningful experience coaching in big games at big schools, something that should not be undersold. He has also coached under and along some of the best college football coaches the game has ever seen: Tom Osborne, Bobby Bowden, and Nick Saban. Further, Coach Steele learned a great deal in his four seasons in the NFL coaching under defensive whiz Dom Capers.
While Coach Steele probably won’t be at Miami for many years, he is an important piece in returning the Canes defense to their dominant days of the past. Coach Steele’s dedication and intensity is something that can be infectious and passed down to future generations. I’ll let Coach Cristobal sum it up: “A Miami Hurricanes defense should always be defined by its physicality and toughness, which are two traits of every Kevin Steele-coached defense. Coach Steele has recruited, developed, and produced at an elite level at every stop of his career, and I’m confident he will implement a defense that will make Hurricanes fans and alumni proud.”
Kevin Steele has a chance to cement his coaching legacy while at The U. Broyles Award Winner? Sure. National Championship winner? Maybe. I can’t wait for this season to see what he has in store for opposing offenses.