Steele staying at Clemson

Derek Dooley wasn’t necessarily Tennessee’s first choice as head coach, so it’s probably fitting that Dooley isn’t going to get his first choice as defensive coordinator, either.

The Vols made an aggressive push for Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, and Steele was close to taking the job at one point. In fact, he indicated to some that’s what he thought he was going to do.

But after a couple of days of mulling it over and talking with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his players, Steele called Dooley on Wednesday and gave him his final answer -- that he was staying at Clemson.

“The bottom line is, at the end of the day, I’m excited about the kind of players we have at Clemson, the progress we’re making, and the direction things are headed,” Steele told ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich. “I just felt like the best place for me to do what I do was at Clemson. At the end of the day, it’s about the players. And at the end of the day that’s why I’m at Clemson.”

He turned down a lot of money. The Vols were offering Steele a three-year deal averaging $750,000 annually. Clemson will up the ante for Steele, but the Tigers aren’t going to pay $750,000.

Steele would have been a quality hire for Dooley, who made a wise choice in keeping Jim Chaney as his offensive coordinator. Chaney was under-utilized on the previous staff.

The Vols are obviously prepared to spend big money, so they should get a seasoned coach to head up their defense.

And what about the going rate now for defensive coordinators in the SEC?

Monte Kiffin was making $1.5 million (with his bonus) before leaving Tennessee. Georgia just hired Todd Grantham for $750,000 per year. Alabama’s Kirby Smart will see his salary go to the $700,000 range annually after being wooed by Georgia, and LSU’s John Chavis also got a bump to the $700,000 range after Georgia came after him.

Ole Miss’ Tyrone Nix is another one who got a raise (to right around $400,000) after Florida’s Urban Meyer tried to hire him.