The 9 lives of Alabama football's Kevin Steele — and what Nick Saban can get from No. 9 | Goodbread
"The nine lives of Kevin Steele. Never out of work."
That's the text I received from a former colleague on Sunday following reports that Alabama football coach Nick Saban had hired Steele as his new defensive coordinator, and it was more spot-on than its sender even knew:
1 - Tennessee linebackers, 1982
2 - Tennessee defensive backs, 1987-88
3 - Alabama defensive coordinator, 2007
4 - Alabama linebackers, 2008
5 - Alabama linebackers, 2014
6 - LSU defensive coordinator, 2015
7 - Auburn defensive coordinator, 2016-20
8 - Tennessee interim head coach, 2021
9 - Alabama defensive coordinator, 2023
That's nine on-field SEC jobs for Steele over a 42-year coaching career, even though, through no fault of his own, he wasn't at Tennessee long enough in 2021 to actually get on the field.
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This will be his third stint at Alabama under Saban and second in the defensive coordinator role, this time charged with leading a rediscovery of the defensive dominance that has marked Alabama's championship teams. That won't be easy, but it won't be as tough as Steele's first go-round in the role. The job he did in SEC life No. 3, as DC of Saban's first Alabama team in 2007, was rendered underappreciated by that squad's Independence Bowl fate. He patched together mostly Mike Shula-era players for a defense that ranked 27th in the country and allowed 21 points or fewer in four losses, having never previously coached for Saban.
In virtually all respects, from the talent he'll work with to his familiarity with the system, his ninth SEC life will be different.
There will now be virtually zero learning curve for Steele; a Saban-army general who enters with stripes on the sleeve when it comes to communicating what his head coach wants from defensive players. If there was any gap in preparation or communication between what the Alabama defense got from former DC Pete Golding last year and what Saban wanted, Steele would figure to be an ideal choice to close it.
Then there is the recruiting aspect, also an area where Steele can and will lean on experience.
Reputationally, Golding is considered a young, energetic ace as a recruiter, and had a strong hand in landing such top recruits as Kool-Aid McKinstry, Dallas Turner and Jaheim Oatis for Alabama. Steele's a more seasoned horse in the recruiting game, if not as magnetic. If you lend any weight to such things, 247Sports.com ranked Golding as the nation's third-best recruiter as recently as two years ago. Steele, for the 2023 class, was unranked. But Steele knows his way around recruits' living rooms, along with all the backroads in the SEC footprint that lead to them.
Saban went with a known commodity here, and in turn, Steele did the same.
It should come as no surprise that Steele found working for Saban, once again, appealing. He enters knowing every expectation, and there's not a more stable program in the college game. That matters more to a coach who will turn 65 next month and, from a stability standpoint, hasn't been very lucky of late. Steele's been an interim coach at two different SEC schools in the last three years. He took over for a fired Gus Malzahn at Auburn only to be unretained by Bryan Harsin, then signed on with then-Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, only to be named UT's interim coach just a few days into the job when Pruitt was fired for cause. Unretained by Josh Heupel, he then joined Mario Cristobal's first staff at Miami last year, where he inherited a roster that had been utterly decimated under previous coach Manny Diaz.
For Steele, returning to Tuscaloosa is like boarding the Queen Mary after three years on a life raft.
Three years, eight lives, and back for one more.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: The 9 lives of Kevin Steele — and what Nick Saban can get from No. 9