While Kevin Steele may be new to Miami’s football program, he’s been coaching forever — since 1980, to be exact — when he was a student assistant coach at the University of Tennessee.
During his over 40 years of experience — which includes time at Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, and even the Carolina Panthers — Steele has seen it all. To this day, Miami’s dominance throughout the 80’s and 90’s still stands out.
“I’ve been coaching long enough to have seen [Miami’s 1983] national championship team,” Steele said. “I have seen Miami football, Miami defense, up close and personal from many venues. I understand the responsibility that we have here, and that history is very important to us.”
A witnessed resurgence of Miami’s defensive dominance from its 1983 team, which only gave up 11.3 points per game, would provide the program with more than added promise. Steele stressed the importance of staying in the present and wants the Canes’ defense to instill fear in its competition, just like Miami’s dynasty of old, nonetheless.
“In the fourth quarter, you want to make your opponent start thinking: ‘Hey, I can’t do this any longer. Let’s get on the bus and go home. This is Miami’,” Steele said. “The physical dominance of relentless effort and flying to the ball and tackling and doing your job … that’s the Miami defense that we know, and that’s the Miami defense that Coach Cristobal will get built here.”
And if anyone could bring defensive greatness back to Coral Gables, it’s Steele.
As Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2016–2020, he turned a team previously ranked 71st in total defense to 28th his first year. In Steele’s second season, Auburn ranked 14th in total defense and allowed only 4.67 yards per game, good enough for eighth-best nationally. That same year, Steele was named a Broyles Award finalist, which is annually given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
Canes fans are hoping Steele can drastically improve Miami defensively, just like he did with Auburn. In 2021, UM ranked 75thin total defense and 118th in turnovers gained, which is not great for a team with a nationally recognizable turnover chain.
Fortunately, Steele found success in the ACC before. From 2009-2011, he served as Clemson’s defensive coordinator, where, in 2011, he helped the team win its first ACC title since 1991. A year earlier, in Steele’s second year, the Tigers’ defense led the ACC, allowing 18.8 points per game for 13th-best nationally.
Steele knows the secret to a great defense, and it is not complicated.
“The foundation will be built on hard work,” Steele said. “Defensively, schematically, you can be a lot of things, and we are going to be a 4-3 defense, but you can be more pressure one year, more zone the next year, but when you come back to it, we have to have relentless effort, physical mental toughness, and tackling.”
In the week that’s passed since Steele’s hiring, he’s already met with players, and is highly confident in their abilities.
“The work that we’ve put in so far, the time I’ve been around them, they have a tremendous will to do what we just say. They’re eager to learn,” Steele said. “They’re very teachable. Very teachable. And, they have an attitude. There’s leadership there. So we’ve just got to keep working them so they get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
With spring practice set to commence in March, expectations are high for Miami’s defense. But Mario Cristobal has complete faith in Steele, whom he formed a relationship with after multiple run-ins on the Broward County recruiting trail.
“A Miami Hurricanes defense should always be defined by its physicality and toughness, which are two traits of every Kevin Steele-coached defense,” Cristobal said. “Coach Steele has recruited, developed and produced at an elite level at every stop of his career, and I’m confident he will implement a defense that will make the Hurricanes fans and alumni proud.”