Steele spent the past five seasons at Auburn but wasn't retained by new Tigers head coach Bryan Harsin. Former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason took over as Auburn's defensive coordinator on Jan. 7.
The 62-year-old returns to his alma mater, where he played as a linebacker under Volunteers coaching legend Johnny Majors. Steele's first coaching job was with Tennessee as well. His coaching journey has seen him spend time at Alabama, LSU, and Baylor, among others. Steele was also a linebackers coach with the NFL's Carolina Panthers from 1995-98.
Steele reunites with Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt after both men were assistants under Nick Saban at Alabama. Pruitt beat out his former Crimson Tide colleague for Tennessee’s head coaching vacancy in 2018.
"Kevin is someone I have respected and admired for a long time on and off the field," Pruitt said. "I had the opportunity to learn and work with him during our time at Alabama, and our friendship grew from there. He has outstanding knowledge of the game and understands what it takes to be successful in this conference."
Considered one of the nation's most impactful recruiters, Steele’s Auburn defenses ranked in the top 20 nationally in four of his five seasons. He was a 2017 finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football.
Auburn owes Steele about $5 million from the contract he signed a year ago that made him NCAA football's highest-paid defensive coordinator.
Tennessee continues an internal investigation into whether recruiting violations occurred within the program. Steele's new job comes amid reports that the Volunteers haven't extended the contracts of assistant football coaches and paused hiring for vacancies during the investigation.