The Full Monte

July 10th, 2021

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The memories will come flooding back to Monte Kiffin next week, accompanied by a few laughs and perhaps a few tears.

The overseer of the NFL’s premier defense of its era is headed to One Buc Place for a news conference to discuss his induction into the franchise’s Ring of Honor.

Mont Kiffin and Rondé Barber

For most of 13 seasons, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden could count on Kiffin’s ultra-fast marauders to overcome inconsistent quarterback play and spotty offense. The Tampa 2 was so efficient, Warren Sapp routinely implored Trent Dilfer, Shaun King and Brad Johnson, “Give us 17 points and we’ll do the rest.”

Almost always, they did.

If the Pro Football Hall of Fame ever opens its doors to assistant coaches, Kiffin deserves serious consideration. Can you picture all the wild hair atop that bronze bust?

Only once in those 13 seasons (2006), did Kiffin’s unit finish outside the Top 10 in scoring defense. In Kiffin’s final 12 years with Tampa Bay, the Bucs featured eight Top 5 finishes in total defense.

Overall, those Buc teams allowed an average of 17.5 points and 287 yards during Kiffin’s majestic tenure, which began when Dungy tabbed him as defensive coordinator in 1996.

Total Control

When Gruden arrived, he was smart enough to adopt a hands-off policy toward Tampa Bay’s defense. He didn’t tinker with the Cover 2 scheme, but Gruden challenged Kiffin’s guys to be historic. Gruden demanded nine defensive TDs … nine defensive TDs is what he got.


You could argue Kiffin was blessed with Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Rondé Barber and Simeon Rice to implement his system, but the 2005 Bucs, who boasted the league’s No. 1 defense, played without Sapp or Lynch.

Kiffin preferred speed over bulk and you’d better hustle to the football. Loafs were unacceptable — and pointed out in unsparing candor during the Monday film sessions.

Kiffin may have looked like the crazy professor, but his study classes were marked by excruciating detail.

You didn’t read your keys.

Why didn’t you take a better angle?

Trust your teammate to do his job.

All that success made the 2008 season incredibly disappointing for Kiffin, who turned 81 in February. It also illustrates his importance to the organization.

Tampa Bay’s defensive collapse in December just happened to coincide with the news Kiffin would be joining his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee in 2009.

Kiffin’s historic run still stands tall

At that point, the Bucs were 9-3, yielding an average of 17 points and 95 rushing yards. They seemed destined for a second consecutive playoff berth. But in the 0-4 stretch run that cost Jon Gruden his job, Buc opponents averaged 31 points and 189 yards on the ground. Mere coincidence? You decide.

After a rain-soaked win against the Saints, when the Bucs picked off Drew Brees three times, Kiffin was asked about the rampant rumors he would soon be heading to Knoxville.

“It’s all just speculation … that’s all it is,” he said. Kiffin didn’t say it wasn’t true. How could he? He had already informed Buc players he was a lame duck.

The following week, the Bucs traveled to Charlotte for a Monday night showdown against the Panthers, with Commissioner Roger Goodell in attendance. Despite a brilliant effort by wide receiver Antonio Bryant, the Bucs lost 38-23, yielding 299 rushing yards.

“To put it bluntly, they ran all over us,” was Barber’s succinct assessment.

“We got hit in the mouth today,” Brooks said.

Last Call

After a loss in Atlanta, Kiffin publicly confirmed the rumors. Then Philip Rivers fired four TD passes for the Chargers in a 41-24 victory in Tampa, the first time since 1993 the Bucs had allowed that many points at home.

“Tampa’s a team built on defensive speed and Monte Kiffin is a genius,” said Chargers guard Mike Goff, “but we had the answers today.”

At 9-6, the reeling Bucs needed help. Instead, they absorbed the final insult when Gruden’s old team, the Raiders, won 31-24 before a stunned Raymond James Stadium crowd. Rookie Michael Bush, who had rushed for 51 yards in his previous seven games, gashed the Bucs for 177 yards.

Just like that, it was over.

Slumped against a locker room wall, Kiffin appeared stunned.

“I didn’t write a very good script, let’s put it that way,” he said. “The wheels fell off. Coach Gruden didn’t lose this game today – put this one on Coach Kiff. I had a great run, but it wasn’t a good month. Why? I don’t know.”

Two weeks later, Gruden and GM Bruce Allen were fired. A veteran purge jettisoned Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard in late February as the Bucs began to rebuild under Raheem Morris.

In nine weeks, the defending Super Bowl champs will honor Kiffin during a halftime ceremony. He’ll give the credit to his players, but Kiffin wasn’t exactly along for the ride. He demanded excellence and his passion for the game never wavered.

Don’t judge him by that December debacle. Remember all those glorious fall Sundays, when chants of “defense, defense,” rocked the house.

“He’s the guy who built this defense into one of the greatest in the history of the NFL,” Barber said in 2008. “He’s everything to us.”

14 Responses to “The Full Monte”

  1. Steven007 Says:

    My buddies and I were tailgating quite early at Jesuit high School one day for a 1:00 game. It was probably around 9:30. As we were setting up under a tree here comes Monty doing his morning jog through the school parking lot before the game. We recognized him and shouted out “hey coach!” He hollered back at us in his distinctive scratchy voice while raising a hand. That December debacle was excruciating. But he was a great coach and motivator. Ring of Honor well deserved.

  2. Jack Burton Mercer Says:

    Hate to use the Q word, but that December it sure looked apt for that defense. Kiffin was the best coach the Bucs ever had.

  3. Pine Hills Says:

    Wow! Only one comment so far?
    Monte Kiffen was The best defensive mind in the NFL for a great many years.
    I can only hope Todd Bowles can create a similar defensive dynasty.
    Today’s defenses are mostly predicated on disguise. Montes were also sometimes.
    Sometimes, especially later, he’d show one thing, especially with safetys and then switch their usual roles post-snap.

  4. An Erection for Sacks Says:

    That night game on December 8, 2008 against the Panthers was a turning point for this franchise, and they didn’t recover from it until this past season. It was the first time that I can remember that Bucs’ D having zero answers against an oppenent. I’ll never forget that game.

    p.s. Little did I realize at the time how putrid the Bucs would become over “The Lost Decade”.
    Gruden had lost the locker room, but to replace him with Raheem Morris?!?!


  5. Bush's Coke Spoon Says:

    Wow. This may be the best I’ve read from Ira recently. I felt the disintegration all over again. How better to illustrate how great that defense was, then to make me feel the collapse like it was yesterday?

    A pirate Pulitzer for ye!

  6. Buczilla Says:

    Great stuff Ira. Kiffin was one the of the best coaches that we’ve ever had and he deserves to be in the ring.

  7. Pine Hills Says:

    Now we have Tom Brady
    For this year and, maybe, next … we have a chance.

  8. Pine Hills Says:

    In the nfl we live year to year..

  9. DavidBigBucFan99 Says:

    If I’m correct Monte was allowed to walk before the season was over. I might be wrong. Even Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Helen Keller could see that the defense had given up. I think they felt betrayed and I believe it was also done to get rid of Gruden. Though I think Monte didn’t fulfill his commitment to the Bucs seeing those stats I was like whoa! He and Dungy helped build a great defense!

  10. Joe Says:

    If I’m correct Monte was allowed to walk before the season was over. I might be wrong. Even Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Helen Keller could see that the defense had given up. I think they felt betrayed and I believe it was also done to get rid of Gruden. Though I think Monte didn’t fulfill his commitment to the Bucs seeing those stats I was like whoa! He and Dungy helped build a great defense!

    Revisionist history.

    If you go back through Joe’s archives, Joe had a story where Lane Kiffin had interviewed with Clemson in October and had told the Clemson people if they hired him he was bringing his dad with him to coach the defense (thinking Clemson hired Dabo Swinney instead — either him or Tommy Bowden). Lane Kiffin was shopping his dad around as a package deal.

    When the Bucs announced Kiffin was leaving, Bruce Allen had said that Kiffin told him back in the summer before the season he wanted to coach with Lane and 2008 was likely his last year with the Bucs. At that time, Lane Kiffin was still coaching the Raiders.

    Joe simply cannot buy that the Bucs defense was so mentally crushed by Kiffin leaving they threw in the towel. Are we really to believe Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber were that spiritually bankrupt that they gave up because Kiffin announced he was leaving? Not Joe!

    If anything, Brooks and Barber wanted to send Kiffin out with a Super Bowl.

    The Bucs collapsed because they were old. That is why when Mark Dominik was given the job he was ordered to go with a youth movement.

    Derrick Brooks never played another game after that season. Kevin Carter never played another game after that season. Cato June played one game after that season. These guys were playing on fumes and it caught up with them in December.

    That’s why the Bucs collapsed that year. Not because they were so bereaved they couldn’t focus on the field.

  11. Sumosam Says:

    I agree with admin here. Gruden has a way of wearing on you. The team was tired. When Monty decided to leave, that was a shot in the gut to these guys but they were already tired. Those four games were a tough stretch but let’s be honest, Monty is a terrific coach and he deserves all the accolades he’s going to get. When we used to go to the stadium to see this team you just knew the other team wasn’t going to score much. I personally love defensive football and if you do, you realize how good this team was. I think back to those days and appreciate what they accomplished. It was a great time in Tampa Bay, just as it’s a great time in Tampa Bay right now. Those guys were the first ones to do it. They brought us the Lombardi after so many years of futility. That took a lot of effort and I for one appreciate those efforts. Monty is the kind of guy you just want to play for. If you ask those guys, they loved playing for him. That’s a great coach.

  12. Ghost of Darrell Henderson Says:

    Maybe, they should change the name to the Ring of Shame. The quitter Kiffin will always be branded as the coach who quit on a 9-3 team that was heading for it’s 2nd Super Bowl.

    To be fair, we should judge a coach on his over all body of work not just his blind luck of having 5 Hall of Famers on his Buc defense. To be honest, I could have coached that defense.

    Let’s also look at the tremendous effect he had as DC at Tennessee where he quit on them as well, with his azzhole son. Remember, like father, like son.

    Then we can look as his great leadership at Southern California where he accomplished less than zero, before he and azzhole were literally run out of town.

    After that, I believe Rod Marinelli gave him a job as water boy in Dallas before he was exposed as a bumbling idiot.

    Let’s lower the bar even further this season and nominate the quitter’s only attempt at drafting, Gaines Adams on the Ring of Shame. Booker Reese?? Let’s go!!!

  13. unbelievable Says:

    That December debacle was devastating.

    Went from 9-3, tied for 1st in the NFC, to not even making the playoffs.

    I was out west visiting San Diego while 3 of those losses piled up, including the one to the Chargers on my flight home. Brutal.

  14. unbelievable Says:

    @Ghost- Derrick Brooks was practically playing on a broken ankle those last few games too. Dude could barely even run. That wasn’t Monte’s fault. But yea the defense def quit when he announced he was leaving.