Kevin Steele departed the private jet Tuesday night, loaded into a white SUV and headed for his new home: LSU.
The Tigers hired Steele, Alabama’s linebackers coach, as their defensive coordinator, ending a nearly-two-week-long search for John Chavis’ replacement.
“It’s a very, very exciting time,” Steele told The Advocate after exiting the plane. “This is a special place, and everybody in football knows that.”
Steele, 56, spent the past two seasons at Alabama under coach Nick Saban. He was director of player personnel in 2013 and linebackers coach last year.
He’s had stops as defensive coordinator at Clemson (2009-11) and Alabama (2007). Steele has been an assistant coaching linebackers and/or defensive backs at Tennessee, New Mexico State, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Florida State and the Carolina Panthers.
LSU is expected to officially introduce Steele at a 4 p.m. news conference Wednesday at the football operations building.
The coach declined to answer more questions in the parking lot of Landmark Aviation, a small terminal for private jets near the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. The Cessna Citation II landed at about 8:50 p.m. carrying Steele and Dean Dingman, LSU’s assistant director of football operations who helped lead the search.
“This is a great hire for us,” coach Les Miles said in a statement released by the school. “He has a great defensive mind, and he’s an outstanding recruiter. He knows our players and our system, and his knowledge of the SEC and the SEC Western Division makes him a great fit.”
Steele replaces one of his best friends, Chavis, who bolted LSU for Texas A&M a day after the Tigers lost the Music City Bowl to Notre Dame. Chavis and Steele are from the same hometown, Dillon, South Carolina, and played together for one year at Tennessee.
Steele’s hire ends a 13-day search that took Miles to Chicago and Dallas to interview candidates. A host of names were mentioned — most notably Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who interviewed but took his name out of the running last week.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and former Southern California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast all spoke with Miles about the gig, sources said.
Steele was mentioned by The Advocate as a candidate during the first week of the search, but his name was lost among the big stars who were to have interviewed or at least been contacted by Miles.
Steele will be the fourth defensive coordinator at LSU in Miles’ 10 years, joining Bo Pelini (2005-07), co-coordinators Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory (2008) and Chavis (2009-14).
Steele, a linebacker at Tennessee from 1978-79, has one stop as a head coach on his résumé with Baylor from 1999-2002. He went 9-36 in four seasons with the Bears and was fired.
Current LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley served as Steele’s defensive coordinator at Baylor. Haley was a candidate for the opening at LSU.
At least one LSU player, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, said after the bowl game that he expected Haley to follow Chavis to A&M. Haley’s status is unknown. He recently signed a new two-year contract with the school.
Steele earned $702,750 this past year from Alabama, according to USA Today’s database of assistant coaching salaries. LSU paid Chavis $1.3 million. He was the third-highest-paid assistant in college football.
Steele’s longest-serving tenure as a coordinator came at Clemson. His three Clemson teams ranked 12th in 2009, 19th in 2010 and 71st in 2011 in total defense.
Steele served as defensive coordinator for Alabama in 2007, Saban’s first year with the Tide. That unit ranked 31st in total defense nationally. Steele lost the defensive coordinator title the next year, serving as associate head coach before leaving for Clemson.
“He possesses outstanding organizational skills along with great people skills, which make him an excellent coach, teacher and recruiter,” Saban said of Steele last year.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.