TAMPA — Hindsight is always 20-20, and Monte Kiffin apparently can see things more clearly after the abrupt end to the Bucs' season.
The departing defensive coordinator said Monday that he might have handled the announcement of his departure for the University of Tennessee differently if he had it to do again.
As it was, Kiffin informed the team with three games left that he was joining son Lane at UT. It was a move that coincided with an uncharacteristically poor stretch for his defense.
"I do think back to (coach) Mike Holmgren with Seattle," said Kiffin, 68. "I said to myself when Mike announced that this was his last year … maybe he shouldn't have announced it at the time.
"And I didn't know. Like I said, I would've liked to have had my choice. But there was so much speculation, I tried to put it to rest. In the same sense, I don't know if it was the right thing to do or not. I really don't. It's hard to look back at that."
No one has made a definitive link between the defense's demise and Kiffin's decision, but at the very least, it's a rather big coincidence. It's hard to deny the news was a distraction.
"It's been tough," coach Jon Gruden said. "It's been talked about daily. All I can say is I love that guy. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for what he's done here. It's been tough certainly. All I can say is I won't use that as an excuse."
Starting over?: QB Luke McCown will be a free agent in the offseason and will test the open market.
"Hopefully there's a starting opportunity for me," he said. "Maybe it'll work out here. I've made my feelings known about this place, and I sincerely love the guys that I play with. I'm going to test the market and see what's out there. I think there will be opportunities to compete, and we'll just see what happens."
McCown, 27, has been in Tampa for four seasons but has never been seriously considered for a starting job, appearing in seven games with three starts. When Jeff Garcia was a late scratch against Atlanta on Dec. 14, Gruden surprisingly opted to start Brian Griese over McCown, perhaps a sign McCown doesn't have a long-term future with the team.
Learning experience: First-round pick Aqib Talib learned a great deal and had considerable impact despite playing a limited role as the nickel back. Talib tied fellow CB Ronde Barber for the team lead with four interceptions.
Asked if he was a better player after 16 NFL games, he said, "I don't know. I guess we'll see next year. It was definitely everything I expected. But all the losses are the same. It feels just like when you didn't go the playoffs in high school."
For Talib, the goal for 2009 is clear: "Hopefully I'll get a chance to play a little more next year."
Defending the line: Gruden defended the play of his offensive line, though whether the unit improved substantially in pass protection is arguable.
"We gave up some sacks," Gruden said. "I don't think statistics really show the magnitude of what our offensive line has done. We've had a lot of different fullbacks this year. A lot of different runners. We pass protected, and our run blocking has been solid. I just think we're pretty good up there, and I think people in the league would agree with that."
Tampa Bay yielded 32 sacks, tied for 16th fewest allowed in the league.