CLEMSON -- The events leading to Kevin Steele's decision to remain as Clemson's defensive coordinator -- and to a $200,000 raise -- began early Tuesday.

Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips received a call at noon Tuesday from head coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney said Steele had received a lucrative offer to become Tennessee's defensive coordinator and he was "concerned."

"He felt like he may not be able to keep Kevin," Phillips said.

Steele was reportedly close to accepting a contract worth $750,000 per year, an offer Clemson did not match, though the Tigers raised Steele's compensation to $575,000 per year, according to a source.

As the rumor of Steele's departure spread across Clemson, defensive players trickled into Steele's office. A meeting with the defensive players had reportedly been scheduled to announce Steele's departure Tuesday, though Steele denied that Wednesday.

Said Phillips: "It appeared Kevin was personally affected by speaking with players."

ESPN's Heather Dinich reported Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel came into Steele's office "chomping angrily on a lollipop," saying "Talk to me, coach."

Steele told Dinich: "It broke me down."

Talking to The Post and Courier on Wednesday, Steele said he thought about how he preaches to his players about "finishing plays" and "finishing games."

"I was considered for a position," Steele said. "I did wrestle with it. 'Should I pursue it or not?' At the end of the day I came to the conclusion Clemson was a special place. I think we are there at a special time. The players are the reason we are there."

Steele said the events had nothing to do with negotiating leverage.

Phillips said Steele met with Swinney in the mid-afternoon Tuesday, reporting he declined Tennessee's offer before ever negotiating a new contract with Clemson.

"There wasn't any financial commitment that Dabo made to him at that time," Phillips said.

After that meeting, Swinney met with Phillips, and talks of amending Steele's contract began. Phillips then called Clemson president James Barker.

Steele signed a three-year contract for $375,000 per season last year.

"I don't know if we call it a victory or not," said Phillips of keeping Steele from leaving to a powerful SEC school, preferring to say it shows coaches "recognize Clemson is a great place to coach football."

Phillips said he will meet with Swinney after signing day to talk about amending other staff members' contracts.

Phillips traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday for the ACC's winter meetings. The most important topic discussed will be the conference's negotiation of a new television deal.

It is the SEC's 15-year, $3 billion television deal that has escalated the coaching arms race and has already threatened ACC staffs numerous times this offseason -- including Clemson.

Reach Travis Sawchik at and check out his Clemson blog at