09/19/2015 LSU Football vs. Auburn

LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele shakes hands with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron during the Tigers’ 45-21 victory against Auburn on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015 in Tiger Stadium

The first thing that came to LSU coach Les Miles’ mind about the challenges No. 18 LSU will face against Auburn was its defense.

“Well, we know the defensive coordinator there,” Miles said.

That coordinator happens to be Kevin Steele, who led the Tiger defense for one season before bolting to Auburn $1.1 million later. Steele inherited the old job from his former high school teammate John Chavis, who left for Texas A&M.

When Steele left one day after the Tigers’ 56-27 Texas Bowl win versus Texas Tech, Miles was surprised to learn about Steele’s decision.

“I was going back to the hotel to get a bite to eat,” Miles recalled. “I walked through what was a common area and Kevin called me over and said, ‘I need to visit with you.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to Auburn.’ And I said, ‘Huh?’ I was relatively shocked. I understood, and I really wish him well.”

Miles regrouped, then quickly replaced Steele with Dave Aranda, two days after Steele informed Miles he was leaving for Auburn.

After three games, Steele has the Auburn defense ranked third in the Southeastern Conference in opponent third down percentage, which isn’t a surprise to Miles.

“Kevin Steele has a very good knack with defense,” he said. “I think he’s certainly a challenge. I think the players that play defense for them are talented.”

For Steele, the focus isn’t on coaching against his former team, it’s on his present situation.

“We’re in a process of creating a mentality and creating an identity,” Steele said at a Sunday press conference. “We can’t be focused on who’s across the line of scrimmage. You can’t get into that … It’s about us.”

Sophomore outside linebacker Arden Key seemed shocked, too, when Steele departed.

“I was kind of sad, mad, bitter sweet at the moment,” Key said. “Then we found out what the reason was for it … We can’t be mad about that.”

Senior defensive end Lewis Neal, who has played under three different defensive coordinators in his career, expressed the same sentiments as Key.

The money mattered. Neal, a businessman and owner of Hair Factory hair salon, understood.

“It was a business decision,” he said. “I understand.”

Though Steele no longer roams the sidelines of Tiger Stadium, his personality and southern drawl are still etched into the team. Key said Steele still keeps in regular contact with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and other members of the staff.

Teammates still mimic or mock his old sayings in his country, deep-south accent, Key said. But the biggest difference between Aranda and Steele isn’t the coaching style.

“Coach Aranda don’t dip, coach Steele did dip,” Key said about the Dillon, South Carolina native. “We used to always ask him for a little dip or something.”

Steele never gave Key, or other LSU players, a pinch of his Copenhagen tobacco, but it was always fun to ask, the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week smiled and said.

“We love coach Steele,” Key said.

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