Auburn’s head coaching search now has a leading candidate in current defensive coordinator/interim head coach Kevin Steele, according to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman.

The Tigers fired Gus Malzahn Sunday, and the university will pay Malzahn’s $21.5 million buyout. Now, it appears that Auburn may just hire Malzahn’s defensive coordinator.

Remember, Auburn fired Gene Chizik and hired Gus Malzahn, his former offensive coordinator. This is somewhat similar; however, Steele is a defensive-minded coach and would need a big-time offensive coordinator hire.

When Malzahn was fired, 2 names came to mind immediately in the Tigers coaching search — Liberty’s Hugh Freeze and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal. It appears AU will miss on both as things stand right now. Freeze signed an extension at Liberty earlier this year, and Cristobal is finalizing a raise and extension with the Ducks as we speak.

Auburn fans had #StopTheSteele trending on Twitter Wednesday because they did not want to hire Steele.

Steele’s only head coaching experience came at Baylor from 1999-2002, where he finished 9-36.