By Jeff Shearer
AuburnTigers.com Senior Writer
Kevin Steele arrived at Auburn with an impeccable scouting report, just like you would expect from one of college football's most respected coaches.
Auburn's defensive coordinator has an inside source. His younger brother, Jeff, serves as Auburn's Associate Athletics Director in charge of facilities and operations.
"Throughout the years, I kind of knew how special Auburn is," Kevin says, "just in term of Jeff's enjoyment of working here, and how close-knit the Auburn family is. The fan base, how they embrace this place in a special way, and the pride they have in it."
No one is more excited about Kevin's hiring than Jeff.
"When he called and told me he was going to go to work here, he said, 'How do you feel about that?'" Jeff recalls. "I said, 'Kevin, I feel fantastic. It's going to be neat having you here.'"
Jeff says Kevin's people skills make him an excellent coach and recruiter.
"He enjoys coming to work," Jeff says. "He enjoys what he does. It's about how you relate to people. That's going to be key for him, and it's going to be fun."
The strong brotherly bond wasn't always so. When Jeff was only one-day old, four-year-old Kevin was less than welcoming.
"Right after I was born," Jeff says, "they took a baby picture at the hospital and dad took it home to (older brothers) Dale and Kevin and said, 'Here's your little brother.' And in the picture my tongue was sticking out."
The next day, the older boys went with their dad to pick up their mother and baby brother.
"Kevin leaned over the front seat and said, `Mom, you've got to take him back.' And she said, `Why?' And he said, `Well, his tongue's not sticking out.' So in 1962, Kevin tried to send me back!"
Thankfully for Auburn, Pete and Margaret Steele disregarded Kevin's plea, but the sibling rivalry lasted throughout childhood.
"The backyard football games, and all the competition," Jeff says. "To see it come to fruition now that we're both at the same place, both working for success for Auburn and the Auburn family, is exciting and fun and I look forward to it. It's going to be a great experience."
Kevin's daughter, Caroline, graduated from Auburn in 2011, but Steele's association with the university began much earlier.
"This university has a large part of me in it," Kevin says.
In the mid `60s, Kevin's father Pete, a football and basketball coach at Gordo, brought Steele to Auburn for his first college game.
"I was in the first grade. We drove from Gordo, Alabama. I thought we were going halfway across the country."
Kevin took home a souvenir that day, a chin strap from the Gordo Green Wave's star athlete, Auburn's Larry Blakeney.
"When your childhood hero is playing quarterback - at that time it was between Jimmy Sidle and Loran Carter - just to show you I know my history. Larry was the quarterback. And so he was my hero.
"I'm in the first grade, and my dad was bringing us up here to see somebody I knew play football," Kevin says. "If you went to my or Jeff's room as a child, you could probably still find Larry Blakeney's chin strap somewhere in there."
A half-century later, it will be Blakeney at Jordan-Hare Stadium this fall watching Steele's Tiger defense.
"He's always been a good one," says Blakeney, a longtime former Auburn assistant and former Troy head coach.
"He's been my boy for a long time. I've followed his career. Pulled for him. I'm really proud of him," Blakeney says. "It's a great fit. I believe Kevin Steele can do it."
Tiger fans need not question Coach Steele's long-term commitment to Auburn. Kevin's wife of 35 years, Linda, made sure of that.
"Coach Malzahn has the best clause in my contract," Kevin says. "My wife said, `We're going to Auburn, and we're staying at Auburn.' There's no ink that could give more guarantee than that.
"I want to be for here the duration of my coaching career. And I've never been able to say that before. I saw my first game here. It'll be just fine with me that I coach my last game here."