Auburn coach Gus Malzahn had a list of requirements for a new defensive coordinator: SEC experience, a successful recruiter, a person with high character and stability.
“I wanted to be patient,” Malzahn said at Steele’s introductory press conference Tuesday. “We got the right guy.”
For Steele, the move to Auburn after one season as LSU’s defensive coordinator seems to be as much personal as it was football-related. Steele grew up in Billingsley, Ala. and recalled that the first college game he attended as a child came at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. If the longtime coach has his way, he wants to end his career in the same place he got his first in-person taste of college football.
“I want to be here the duration of my coaching career,” Steele said.”I’ve never been able to say that before. I saw my first game here. It’ll be just fine with me if I coach my last game here.”
Steele has multiple family ties to Auburn, which played a part in his decision to take the coordinator position. Steele’s younger brother, Jeff, is the associate athletic director of facilities and operations and his daughter, Caroline, is an Auburn graduate.
The Tigers desperately need consistency in the defensive coordinator role. Steele will be their the seventh defensive play-caller in the last 10 years and the third in as many seasons.
Auburn has yet to release the details of Steele’s new contract. He just finished the first year of a two-year contract with LSU, which included a buyout of $500,000. Former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was the highest-paid assistant coach in the country last season, with a three-year deal starting at $1.6 million annually.
Now the head coach at South Carolina, Muschamp’s contract allowed him to leave Auburn without a financial penalty following the first year of his deal. But unless Steele’s tone from Tuesday’s press conference changes, a similar clause is unlikely to be included this time around.
“My wife said we’re going to Auburn and we’re staying at Auburn,” Steele said. “There’s no ink that could give more guarantee than that.
LSU’s defense was ranked 25th nationally in total defense in Steele’s only season. He will be expected to improve an Auburn defense that finished 71st in that category.