Kiffin fits in well in Bucs’ Ring of Honor

by Gary Shelton on February 22, 2020

in general

Saturday, 4 am.

Even now, he is imagining how the salt and pepper shakers could blitz the dining room chair.

He squints, and he imagines the coffee table coming hard around the edge and blitzing the television set. The way he has it drawn up, the flower pot in the corner is about to come on a delayed blitz.

Even as he approaches his 80th birthday, he is still Monte Kiffin. And Mad Scientists are never fully retired, are they?

The Bucs announced Friday that Kiffin will be the team's latest (and 14th) inductee into the team's Ring of Honor next fall. That has to bring a smile to the face of a Bucs' fan. Which coach, and which player, disappointed them less than Kiffin?

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During Kiffin’s 13 seasons leading Tampa Bay’s defense, the unit ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed 11 times and in points allowed 12 times. During that same 13-year span, the defense led the league in points allowed per game (17.5), ranked second in takeaways (293) and yards allowed per game (286.8), third in interceptions (249) and 10th in total sacks (503). Not many assistant coaches have made the Rings of Honors that are scattered about the league; but not many assistants ever had a decade like Kiffin's.

He was a different cut of cloth, Kiffin, the bridge between the playoff run of Tony Dungy and the Super Bowl win of Jon Gruden. He was forever tinkering, forever thinking. And he built the Bucs' defense into one that mattered. If the Bucs offense had ever been up to standards, who knows how many Super Bowls the team might have won?

They used to give Monte grief in the offices of the Bucs. About how he would squirrel snack cakes away in his desk for those nights he would spend sleeping on the couch. About how he never wanted to talk about his age, lest it catch up to him.

Joe Barry, the old linebacker coach, used to tell this one. Late one night, Monte was game-planning when a new idea for a blitz occurred to him. So he rushed into Barry's office to tell him about it. So there Monte was, with his wild hair, with his raspy voice, talking about his idea in a very loud stage whisper.

"Why are you whispering, Monte?" Barry kept saying. "No one is here but us. No one."

I spent a weekend with Kiffin in Knoxville in 2009, after he resigned to join his son Lane at the University of Tennessee. He was still Monte, still charging up and down the field with his arms waving. That night, Lane invited me to a team meeting. At it, he had planned to stage a mock fight between Monte and Ed Orgeron (now the head coach at LSU). At the last minute, he made it a confrontation between an offensive coach and Orgeron. But Monte was still in the scrum.

Let's be honest: In the NFL, head coaches are the ones who get to lift the trophies. They hold press conference, and they make ridiculous salaries, and they retire to a cushy network job. But the heavy lifting is done by assistant coaches, the ones with their hands on.

Let's be honest. For a franchise that hasn't been on top very often, there are still a few Ring of Honor candidates. Hardy Nickerson. Simeon Rice. Batman Wood. James Wilder. Warrick Dunn.

But on another level, Kiffin makes sense.

After all, the Ring of Honor is a museum, a collection of memories. And who provided more memories than Monte?

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