Kiffin to Tennessee...Kiffin To Follow?
With the news that former Oakland Raiders Head Coach Lane Kiffin will be heading to Knoxville as the heir to Phillip Fulmer's gridiron kingdom, sources have quickly indicated that his father, long time Tampa Bay Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, will be joining his staff.
The elder Kiffin has been a fixture by the bay since the days of the creamsicle uniforms. Back when speculation of a move to Los Angeles ran rampant, Kiffin and head man Tony Dungy did something no one had ever expected out of the Buccaneers: They won.
The slightly ironic twist to all this is that this is not the first time the new coaching staff at the University of Tennessee has proven a distraction to the Bucs.
When the news broke that the administration was forcing retirement upon Fulmer, the head coach for 17 seasons, most sports journalists jumped to the conclusion that Tampa Head Coach Jon Gruden, always itching for yet another challenge, would shed the red and pewter and lead his alma mater back to prominence.
In fact, it looks as though the man synonymous with the Tampa-Two defense will actually be the one bidding farewell to the Raymond James faithful.
Kiffin has thus far spent 13 seasons leading one of the NFL's most vaunted defenses, even surviving a rather drastic coaching change when Gruden replaced Dungy. His scheme has been copied by several other teams, and former assistants Herm Edwards (NYJ, KC), Rod Marinelli (DET), Lovie Smith (CHI), and Mike Tomlin (PIT) went on to become head coaches.
Kiffin himself interviewed for a head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. Back then, Jeff Garcia was excited at the possibility of getting a man like Kiffin to give him more quality opportunities to put points on the board.
"Just looking at what Monte has done there in the past six or seven years. They've had such great defenses. Obviously, you have to have good players in there, but the scheme that they play, what he does with those players, they're such great tacklers, they fly around to the football, they make plays, they create turnovers, they create points. And a lot of that has to go right toward him.
"I think for him to be mentioned as a potential candidate, I think that's something they have to be excited about. Obviously in San Francisco, I think certain areas are ready to move forward. But defensively, we've kind of been on the bubble. We've played well at times and we've suffered a little bit at times, basically because of youth.
"And I think if he can come in, or a defensive guy could come in with an emphasis on getting that defense better and allowing the offense to continue to grow, I think that would be a great addition."
In 2007, Garcia would get his wish by joining Kiffin as a member of the Buccaneers. All he's done since despite his advanced age, a long string of significant offensive injuries, and differences with coach Gruden is post passer ratings of 94.6 and 94.5 in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
There's almost no chance Monte will even discuss the possibility of joining his son before the Bucs' season is over. He is a high-character guy and will not leave his current employer out to dry. But should he opt to move on, his absence will create an interesting choice for Buccaneer management.
There are a few assistants already on staff with enough on their resumes to garner consideration for the defensive coordinator position. Larry Coyer has been the defensive coordinator for Iowa, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Memphis (USFL), East Carolina, Pitt, and the Denver Broncos. He is also currently the Bucs' assistant head coach.
Raheem Morris has been on the Bucs' defensive staff since 2002, aside from a stint as Kansas State Defensive Coordinator in 2006. Morris is highly regarded in the organization and has been at least partially credited with the resurgence of the team's defense in 2007.
Finally, Casey Bradley was a defensive assistant at North Dakota State for 10 seasons, much of that time as assistant head coach and/or defensive coordinator. He is known to have worked very closely with Kiffin during his three years with Tampa Bay, and has coached the linebackers for the past two seasons.
However, there is the very real possibility that all of these moves will work in concert to provide a soft landing spot for embattled Lions Head Coach Rod Marinelli in the wake of his inevitable firing this coming offseason.
Gruden stays, Lane Kiffin gets hired at Tennessee, Monte Kiffin wants to work with his son, Marinelli gets run out of Detroit, right back to the site of his greatest gridiron glory.
While no one is likely to offer Rod the chance to lead an NFL team again any time soon, there is certainly little doubt that the man does know defense, and given the opportunity to work with a defense stocked with talent, he has done exceedingly well.
A Tampa Bay homecoming might just be in the cards for 2009. Of course, there are no guarantees about a return to Arrowhead for Chiefs Head Coach Herm Edwards, either.
Nothing is set in stone, but should Monte decide to join Lane's staff at Tennessee, these new Volunteers will have an instant level of credibility for their program. Recruits can be sure they'll be taught techniques that will make them attractive to NFL scouts, and the defense will undoubtedly be playing at a superlative level within a matter of years.
A solid defense can take you a long way in the SEC, and that's what Tennessee is banking on.
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