It was a throwaway question at the end of a long interview, one designed to take a weary assistant coach by surprise.
We’re not dummies in our profession. It’s our attempt catch someone off-guard and get the kind of comment that sucks in readers.
So it was when a reporter asked Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin about his potential interest in the Nebraska job, now vacated after Bill Callahan’s firing last week.
Kiffin was, understandably, non-committal.
“I haven’t heard anything right now. We’ll just wait and see on that. I spent a little time there, so we’ll wait and see,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin would be a natural fit with the Huskers. He worked there as a defensive assistant in the 1960s and 70s. He’s spoken in glowing terms of his time with the Cornhuskers. To many alums, he’d probably be a perfect fit for the program. And, perhaps, Kiffin might crave a change of scenery after more than a decade with the Buccaneers.
He’s interviewed for head coaching jobs before, most notably St. Louis two years ago. The Rams eventually went with Scott Linehan. How’s that working out for the Rams?
If Kiffin chose to take a head-coaching job at Nebraska, or anywhere else for that matter, Bucs Nation would certainly not stand in his way. After more than a decade of excellence, he’s earned that.
But the Buccaneers must do all they can to convince Kiffin to stay. Pay raises. Yachts. Cuban cigars. Whatever Monte wants is what he should get. Short of retirement, it’s Tampa Bay’s only option.
Losing Kiffin would hurt as bad as losing, say, Derrick Brooks in his prime.
We should, rightly so, talk about Jon Gruden’s head coaching job this year. But we would be remiss if we didn’t delve into Kiffin’s job in 2007.
This defense was, by Bucs terms, awful in 2006. A ranking in the bottom half of the NFL was completely unacceptable after nearly a decade of Top 10 rankings. So the Bucs sought to change that with several free-agent signings and a defense –heavy draft.
Then it was up to Kiffin to blend it all together. In all, he’s taken as many new parts as veteran parts to reconstruct this defense into one good enough to anchor a potential division championship.
He’s taken players as disparate as journeyman Greg White, rookie safety Tanard Jackson and third-year linebacker Barrett Ruud and molded them into a unit worthy of the team’s reputation earlier this decade.
But more than that, Kiffin has shown flexibility in how he uses his personnel, craftiness that most 65-year old coaches don’t possess. Instead of simply relying on his vaunted Cover 2, he’s used Cover 3, Cover 4, three-man fronts, 5-2 sets and a myriad of other formations to create a pass rush and keep teams honest. He may be an old dog, but he’s not afraid to try something new if it accomplishes the same thing.
Kiffin makes adjustments better than most head coaches, much less assistants. And he can break down opposing offenses and put his defenders in places where they can make plays. Want proof? Read my “Press Pass” feature on Kiffin. He reveals why the Bucs changed defenses on 4th-and-1 at the 4-yard line to stop Clinton Portis, why Ronde Barber freed himself for that interception and why the Redskins were able to score that deep passing touchdown. It’s a great coach that can reveal, in understandable terms, what happened, even when it didn’t go right.
You can read this premium feature by clicking here. It’s well worth the six minutes to become educated Kiffin-style.
The Bucs were smart enough to get Ronde Barber a contract extension last year. Now it’s time to be smart enough to let Kiffin know how loved and appreciated he is in Tampa Bay. If he decides to go to Nebraska or anywhere else to be a head coach, so be it.
But from Tampa Bay’s perspective, it better not be for a lack of trying to keep him.
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Listen to Bucsblitz.com’s Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com’s exclusive team media center for Postins’ archived appearances.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.