AUBURN, Ala. — For Auburn football players looking to make it in the National Football League, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is a valuable resource.
After coaching for nearly four decades in college and the NFL, Steele knows when a player is ready to make the jump successfully. He’s not the only person Tigers players can consult with, of course, but he’s probably near the top of the list.
“I do know. I’ve been there,” Steele said. “But it’s still, there are people — they have the ability to go through a system and make a very educated decision, in terms of they can send their name in, get a grade. Those grades are done by the people that make the picks, so if they listen to that, if they listen to the right people, they’ll make a good decision.”
While Steele may want to hold onto Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis, defensive lineman Jeff Holland and others who could choose to leave early, he approaches each instance as selflessly as one can.
“And really, we want what’s best for them,” Steele said. “It’s not — if they ask specific questions, then you’ll answer those questions for them. If they ask for advice, we’ll give it to them.”
After all, recruiting a player to stay for their senior year might be a nice gesture, but with particular standouts, it also can be unrealistic.
“But I don’t think you can go at it where you’re just recruiting them to stay when they got a first-round grade back. That’s a little conflict there,” Steele said. “So we’re just going to support them and hopefully they can make the best decision for them.”
When Auburn junior Carl Lawson opted to leave after a tremendous junior year in 2016, Steele wasn’t concerned about replacing the dynamic pass rusher. He knew he had Holland and others to step into Lawson’s place. It wasn’t just a one-time instance, either. It’s required preparation Steele does each year.
“Recruiting is built that way now,” Steele said. “When it first started early on, it was a little different, all the juniors coming out. But you kind of build it that way now. You kind of anticipate that you will lose a certain amount of juniors each year.”
In the coming weeks, Steele will have conversations with players who could play their last game as Auburn Tigers in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. First and foremost, however, the coordinator hopes to end the 2017 season with a win in Atlanta.
“When you sit there and say this team has a chance to win 11 games; it hasn’t been done here — or at a lot of places, for that matter, very often,” Steele said. “They’ve got a chance, I think somebody told me, to be the first team in college football history to beat three 9-0 teams in the same year. 9-0 or better. That’s a pretty good feat.
“But there’s nothing like ending it with a bowl win. It’s the last game. It just makes everybody feel better for a little while.”