CLEMSON — It's weird how things happen. Just days before he would become Clemson's next defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele had an unexpected run-in with Tigers' head coach Dabo Swinney on Christmas Eve in Birmingham, Ala. – and it had nothing to do with the job. Both coaches were with their families and both were getting some last minute Christmas shopping completed.
"We got out of the car to do a little Christmas shopping and Kathleen and Dabo and the three boys were walking down the sidewalk," Steele said during a teleconference with the media on Monday. "It was divine intervention."
It really was.
At the time, the former Alabama defensive coach, who knows Swinney through their passing as staunch recruiters, did not even discuss the defensive coordinator position Swinney had at open on his Clemson staff.
Why would he? Steele's good friend and former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis was the leading candidate to replace Vic Koenning, and it was almost a done deal that he was headed to Clemson.
"I congratulated (Swinney) on the job and congratulated him and wished him good luck in the bowl game and talked to the boys a little bit," Steele said. "They talked about the Alabama season… It was just a casual family conversation that centered around football, but nothing about us ever being together.
"I could not have ever called him while John Chavis was even involved in the job remotely. That's best my best friend. We are like brothers. That was not going to happen."
When Chavis decided to take the LSU job and told Steele about it, that's when Steele decided that maybe he should put his name in the hat to be the Tigers' new defensive coordinator.
And the rest is history sort of speak.
Steele said he contacted Swinney on Dec. 27th and he and Swinney worked out a deal by Dec. 31. He did not officially accept the job until Jan. 2, and last Friday Clemson officially named him defensive coordinator once all the paperwork and background checks came through.
"When I was kind of aware that (John was not coming) and hung the phone up that night, I started thinking about it and I thought ‘boy this would be a great time to be at Clemson with Coach Swinney and the talent that they have there.' and the staff that he was assembling," Steele said.
Steele inherits a defense that finished 18th in the country in total (299.9 yards), 12th in passing (172.5), 10 in passing efficiency and 13th (17.3) in scoring defense and has nine players back with at least one start.
"The standard is pretty high because Vic, Chris (Rumph), David (Blackwell) and Ron (West), with all the players and talent that is there, did a phenomenal job the last three or four years that has gotten better and better and obviously culminated with an outstanding defense this year.
"The key is, which is a hard key, a lot of times you want to take things and take them from the ground floor up, but this one is pretty high up there now so certainly we want to keep it there and keep improving because in this business, as you well know, you never stay the same. You either get better or worse, and you can't afford to get worse so, you have to get better and that's a hard thing to do when you are playing at the standard that they have been playing at the last couple of years."
Steele, who is a Dillon native, plans on running a 4-3 scheme, but unlike Koenning's zone schemes, his will be more aggressive and will bring a lot of pressure.
"I have been involved in a lot of defenses and a lot of good ones and it is about players," Steele said. "The defense will not be too terribly different… I love to pressure and create bad plays for offenses with pressure."
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