Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele told ESPN.com he has been fired after three seasons, but coach Dabo Swinney and the university are sticking to their statement that Steele was not fired and he is leaving to pursue other coaching opportunities.
Regardless of the semantics, Steele confirmed Thursday in a text message to ESPN.com that he will not return to Clemson in 2012.
The decision followed one of the program's worst defensive performances, as Clemson suffered an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl. The 70 points were the most points scored by a team in any bowl game.
"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 declined further immediate comment.
In a statement issued by Clemson, Swinney thanked Steele for his three years with the program.
"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 his direction," Swinney said. "I thank him for his hard work and dedication to our program and wish him nothing but the best."
Clemson's defense was the weak link for the 2011 ACC champions, as the Tigers finished No. 71 in the country in total defense and No. 81 in scoring defense, allowing 29.29 points per game.
It was a marked decline from the 2010 defense, which was 13th in the nation in scoring defense and best in the ACC.
Heather Dinich writes about ACC football for ESPN.com.