ATLANTA — First and foremost, Monte Kiffin wants to make it known that he loves everything associated with the Bucs.
"You're talking about great fans," the team's defensive coordinator said after Sunday's loss. "I mean, this is like my alma mater."
Still, the draw of coaching with his son at the University of Tennessee proved irresistible. Kiffin, 68, confirmed Sunday what had been speculated for weeks: He will join son Lane at the school after the season. He said he came to a final decision a week ago and told coaches and players Wednesday.
"I went back and forth," Kiffin said. "It was a very, very hard decision because of players, our fans. When you've been in a place since 1996, you don't just jump ship. I've had other opportunities. … But I stayed here, decided to sign back up for two years. But the club was very good about giving me the option to go with my son.
"It boiled down to one thing: It was your son, and that's what it is. I love these players. … I told them kind of what I'm telling you. I said, 'Guys, this was a tough decision. I went back and forth.' I didn't think it was right to keep carrying it out."
Though the move had been expected, Kiffin emphasized that he had not made a final decision until just before the Bucs took on Carolina last week. So as not to be a distraction before the game, he withheld the news until the team returned to Tampa, he said.
But even after he waited for two days, it was difficult to break the news to the many familiar faces in the team meeting room.
"I looked around that room and there's a lot of really good fathers in that room," he said. "I'm so proud of those guys."
As for the rest of the season, it remains to be seen whether there is any impact as a result of Kiffin's decision.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks, the only player who has been in Tampa Bay for Kiffin's entire tenure, said he'll withhold his feelings until the appropriate time.
"He's still here," Brooks said of Kiffin. "Until our season is over, those emotions probably won't come into effect."
Said Kiffin: "My focus (on Sunday) was the Atlanta Falcons. My focus next week will be on the Chargers and then the Raiders the week after that. It's just the way I am. I owe it to these players."