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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Kevin Steele's a trusted friend, Tommy Rees a kindred spirit for Nick Saban

This is what winning looks like, Exhibit A. Script A, if you please. Both coordinator jobs come open after a letdown of a football season. Thirsty for change because two losses are too many, fans clamor for a familiar face, a hot name or both. Time passes, both jobs remain unfilled and heretofore loyal supporters who generally genuflect before the man who walks to work past his own statue start to wonder what's taking so long.

Meanwhile, Nick Saban abides. He lands one of the most decorated recruiting classes of all time, then makes not one but two intriguing hires to help him write the final chapters of his career.

Naturally, he does it his way. He closes the circle and returns to his roots by hiring Kevin Steele and Major Applewhite 2.0 - a k a Tommy Rees - with a twist.

Steele in 2023 is an even better defensive coordinator than his 2007 self, and he was so good then that Saban pulled him away from Bobby Bowden and Florida State as one of his first hires in Tuscaloosa. Two days before Saban's Alabama debut, he showed me what he thought of Steele.

Here's what Saban said about Steele's place in the universe of quality assistant coaches who had brought exceptional value to his organizations: “I don’t know if I could remember anybody that I would say, all around, is any better than him. And I’ve been around a lot of good coaches.”

Saban shared that extreme compliment while we chatted in the sitting room portion of his office. To reinforce his respect for his new right-hand man, he made an exception to his one-voice philosophy and allowed me to walk down the hall to interview Steele in his office.

Cleanest, neatest desk I'd ever seen. Steele's pristine surroundings revealed an extreme disdain for clutter.

All these years later, he is one of only four Alabama coordinators under Saban to not win at least one national championship. No doubt he came back in part to correct that oversight, but make no mistake. From recruiting elite talent to reinforcing Saban's message, especially at the beginning, the work Steele did in his two two-year stints in T-town - 2007-08 and 2013-14 - helped set the stage for others to climb podiums in celebration.

Steele's best work may have come not at Alabama but at Auburn. He didn't just coordinate Gus Malzahn's defense for five years. His defense outperformed Malzahn's offense in the national scoring rankings every single year. ...

Read the rest of Kevin's thumbs-up analysis of Alabama hiring Kevin Steele and Tommy Rees. Only in The Lede.

Nick Saban and Kevin Steele will be wearing the same colors again in the next Iron Bowl.


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