By Trey Mongrue
Everything was in place for Kevin Steele to join Les Miles’ coaching staff at LSU. The contract terms were agreed upon and his name and picture were even printed in the LSU Media Guide.
This was back in the summer of 2012.
Unfortunately for both parties involved, an issue with the buyout in Steele’s contract from his time at Clemson did not keep him in Baton Rouge for very long. But after a strenuous coaching search following the surprise departure of John Chavis, Miles brought Steele back to LSU, introducing him as the Tigers’ new defensive coordinator.
“I live in the moment and I’m where my feet are. I never really dreamed that I’d be working here.”
– LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele
– LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele
“I’ve wanted to hire him for some time, to be honest,” Miles said of Steele at the introductory press conference. “He is an advocate of our style of defense and I’m very pleased that he joins our staff.”
Even though Steele did not get to spend much time with LSU when he was originally brought on, it’s not like he has been a stranger to the program. His son, Gordon, has been learning under Miles as one of LSU’s graduate assistants for the past three seasons.
“A lot of the players, all but the freshman class, he knew very well,” Steele said of his son. “So I had a real inside source.”
That level of familiarity for Steele was a main reason why he wanted to take over for a defense that led the Southeastern Conference in yards allowed per game this past season.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” he said of the prospects of leading LSU’s defense for 2015 and beyond. “I firmly believe that without question that the LSU defensive football is and always has been something in this league and across the nation that says relentless pursuit, great effort, and just a dominating attacking style defense.”
Steele was one of the first names to surface in reports when the defensive coordinator position opened up in December. But before he could accept the job in good conscience, there was one person he had to call: Chavis.
Steele’s relationship with Chavis dates back long before either had LSU on the mind.
They grew up together in Dillon, South Carolina and were teammates and roommates at Tennessee. There aren’t many people on the planet whose word that Steele trusts more than Chavis’. And despite any residual awkwardness that remained from the way Chavis left LSU for Texas A&M last month, he made sure to let his friend know that LSU was an opportunity to not pass up.
“He told me to take the job,” Steele recalled of the conversation. “We talk four or five times every week, sometimes twice a day. I asked him about the players and he explained all of that.”
But while he is close to Chavis, the defensive scheme that Steele constructs at LSU likely will not be a carbon copy of what has been employed for the past six seasons.
As head coach at Baylor from 1999 to 2002 and as Clemson’s defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011, Steele has relied mainly on a base defense with four down lineman, similar to Chavis. However, Steele’s two stints with Alabama – as defensive coordinator in 2007 and as linebackers coach this past season – has also given experience with running a 3-4 defense.
Now at LSU, Steele plans to show a little bit of everything and that’s of upmost importance in a sport that is transitioning more and more to the up-tempo spread offenses.
“You’re going to have to use it all in this league,” he explained. “You’re going to have to have some odd‑front stuff particularly against the spread offense that much of the West is running, so to get those two edge guys out there. But there also is a place for the other, so we’ll have to mix that.”
But the time to decide on the makeup of the playbook will come soon enough, just not at this very second.
For the time being, Steele is still recovering from the shock of returning to a place that he has known for a quite some time, but never really had a chance to firmly be a part of until right now.
“I live in the moment and I’m where my feet are,” he said. “I never really dreamed that I’d be working here.”