MOBILE, Ala. -- Count former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin among those thrilled to see Lovie Smith, his former assistant, back in Tampa as the Bucs' head coach.
Kiffin remembers when the Bucs first interviewed Smith -- then Ohio State's defensive backs coach -- for an assistant's spot on Tony Dungy's original Tampa Bay staff in 1996. Smith was interviewed by Kiffin and Dungy in Tampa, then again at the NFL combine in Indianapolis
"The first time, we said 'Good golly!' because he was that good," said Kiffin, who knew Dungy liked a more experienced assistant, Herm Edwards, to handle his defensive backs but left the interview impressed enough to have him coach the team's linebackers.
Kiffin was originally to have some oversight with the linebackers as well, but it didn't take long for Dungy and Kiffin to realize that Smith could handle the position just as well as he had defensive backs -- he had coached the position for a combined 10 seasons in college, at Tulsa, Wisconsin, Arizona State and Kentucky.
"We had a minicamp, a couple of weeks of OTAs, and I went up to him and said 'Tony, this guy's ready,'" Kiffin said. "He can take these linebackers and allow me to walk around. He just took off. He's a great coach and great person, very, very genuine. You can be a good person and not be a good coach. You can be a great coach and kind of be a jerk. He's really special."
Kiffin, who was the Cowboys' defensive coordinator last season, said he talked to Smith extensively during his year off from coaching and later about the possibility of him returning to Tampa. He also is happy to see one of his former players, Hardy Nickerson, working as Smith's linebackers coach.
"Hardy's awesome," Kiffin said. "He was a great leader, great team guy. Ran our defense when it all got started."
Kiffin worked alongside Smith's son, Mikal, this past year when he was the Cowboys' nickelbacks coach, and Kiffin said he's a promising young coach, as is Dave Borgonzi, who worked with Dallas' offensive line in 2013 and is now a defensive quality control for the Bucs. Kiffin said he interviewed new Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen for the Cowboys staff last year, and passed on him only because he was able to get former Bucs assistant Rod Marinelli for the job.
There's one more Kiffin connection to the new Bucs staff -- his son Lane played quarterback from 1994-96 under Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford when he was at Fresno State, then got his first coaching job as an assistant on Tedford's staff in 1997.
"That's where he got his start as an offensive coach was under Jeff Tedford," Kiffin said. "Jeff would come down to (Bucs) camp when (former Fresno QB Trent) Dilfer was the quarterback. Jeff's a great hire, too."
It's a staff that Kiffin knows well, and he's looking forward to seeing the Bucs find much of the same success they had when Smith and Kiffin were defensive assistants together in the late 1990s.
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"I'm really excited. I'm excited for all the Tampa Bay fans, for the whole organization, but especially for Lovie," he said.