Steele said Thursday that he had left the Tigers after three seasons for other coaching opportunities. He and his defense had come under heavy criticism after allowing a bowl-record 70 points in the Tigers’ embarrassing loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl last week.
Clemson’s defense allowed 28 or more points in seven of its final eight games and fell from 24th last year to 81st in the country in points allowed.
“I have had a great experience at Clemson and feel good about what we have accomplished the last year three years,” Steele said in a statement. “But there are some other coaching opportunities I wish to pursue at this time.”
Steele was one of coach Dabo Swinney’s first hires after he got the fulltime job at Clemson after the 2008 season. And it looked like a strong move as the Tigers defense finished in the top 25 nationally in yards allowed and points scored.
That changed dramatically this season as Clemson gave up more than 29 points a game and surrendered 28 points or more in seven of its final eight games. The bottom fell out at the Orange Bowl where the ACC champs hoped to cap off a bounce-back season. Instead, the Tigers appeared lost in stopping the Mountaineers’ attack.
Clemson’s offense chipped in to the blowout with turnovers that gave West Virginia short fields to play with. Still, the showing was the last straw for many fans already angered by the team’s third consecutive loss to rival South Carolina.
Swinney thanked Steele for his efforts and wished him well.
“Although we were inconsistent at times with a young defense this year, overall we have been one of the best defenses in the country the last three years” under Steele, Swinney said in the statement.
Steele just finished his 26th season at the college level, which has included stops at Nebraska and Florida State. He also coached four seasons in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.