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Swinney finds a Steele in Alabama

Kevin Steele, left, gestures as he talks with Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney during the NCAA college basketball game between Alabama and Clemson on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009, in Clemson, S.C. Swinney announced Friday, Jan. 9, 2009, that Steele would be the new defensive coordinator at Clemson. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
Kevin Steele, left, gestures as he talks with Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney during the NCAA college basketball game between Alabama and Clemson on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009, in Clemson, S.C. Swinney announced Friday, Jan. 9, 2009, that Steele would be the new defensive coordinator at Clemson. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

CLEMSON — The first three hires of Dabo Swinney’s tenure featured Alabama prominently on their resumes.

To fill the highest-profile vacancy on the staff, Swinney went straight to the source.

Clemson formally announced Kevin Steele as the team’s new defensive coordinator Friday.

Steele most recently served as Alabama’s defensive head coach, second-in-command over the Crimson Tide’s defense behind coach Nick Saban.

To make room for Steele on Clemson’s staff, outside linebackers/defensive ends coach Ron West has been moved into a newly created administrative position, sources said. West remains a candidate for a defensive coaching position at Tulsa, perhaps as co-coordinator.

Steele and Swinney were not available for comment Friday and will address the media Monday morning. Athletics department spokesman Tim Bourret said Swinney will address any other staff changes at that time.

“Kevin Steele is one of the most respected coaches in the nation,” Swinney said in a prepared statement. “He has served under hall of fame head coaches who have won national championships and also has experience in the NFL. He has also been ranked as the No. 1 recruiter in the nation and has coached in eight BCS-level bowl games.

“He has recruited this state for many years and is respected by the high school coaches of South Carolina. He is a perfect fit for this staff.”

The 50-year-old Steele, who graduated from Dillon High School, agreed to take the job a week ago, but the school delayed confirming the hire until background checks and necessary paperwork had been completed.

He also will serve as linebackers coach, the school announced.

It is unclear what that means for David Blackwell, who has overseen Clemson’s inside linebackers the past six seasons.

“It feels great to return to the state of South Carolina,” Steele said in the statement. “I have recruited this state for many years and feel at home in this area. Clemson has an outstanding tradition and I am excited about the opportunity to work for coach Swinney, who is one of the bright young coaches in the game.”

The financial terms of Steele’s agreement will not be released until his contract is finalized.

School officials declined to say whether Clemson has agreed to, or will have to, pick up the $72,000 buyout Alabama might be owed from Steele’s multi-year contract with the Crimson Tide.

Steele made $365,000 annually and would owe the university 20 percent of that salary for breaking his deal within 14 days of the contract’s termination — unless Saban decides to waive the buyout.

“Kevin is an outstanding coach and really did an excellent job with every responsibility he had at Alabama,” Saban said through a school spokesman.

“Although we are sorry to see them go, we wish Kevin and his family all the best at Clemson.”

Steele worked at Alabama the past two seasons, serving as defensive coordinator in 2007 until he received a title promotion in the school’s efforts to also retain Kirby Smart, who now holds the coordinator designation.

Previously, he served as Florida State’s linebackers coach (2003-06), Baylor’s coach (1999-2002), the Carolina Panthers’ linebackers coach under Dom Capers (1995-98) and Nebraska’s linebackers coach (1989-94) through its national title victory.

Steele’s wife, Linda, also is from Dillon, and Steele spent a year at Furman before transferring to finish his playing career at Tennessee.

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