Kevin Steele’s work with Auburn defense has been job-saver for Gus Malzahn

AUBURN, Ala. — When Tennessee hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as its new head coach last week, some Auburn football fans celebrated.

It wasn’t because the Tigers’ biggest rival lost a key assistant coach. Instead, it was because one of their own top assistants — Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele — wasn’t returning to his alma mater after interviewing for the job.

A lot can change in two years. When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hired Steele before the 2016 season to replace the outgoing Will Muschamp, reactions were lukewarm at best from fans and media members alike.

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Steele was coming off a decent year as LSU’s defensive coordinator. But his rough ending as Clemson’s defensive coordinator in 2011 — the Tigers gave up 70 in his final game — was still fresh in a lot of minds.

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