TAMPA — Monte Kiffin was back on his old stomping grounds, front and center at a lectern in the team meeting room at the Bucs training facility where all those great game plans came to life. In the audience, players such as Booger McFarland, Dexter Jackson, Shelton Quarles and even Mike Alstott leaned forward to hang on his every word.
“I know one thing, I walk a little slower,” the 81-year-old Kiffin said Wednesday at a Ring of Honor news conference. “I’ve got a bad back. But I feel very fortunate to be here today. My health is good. I’ve got a great wife. I’ve got eight grandchildren. What they call me at Ole Miss, they call me defensive analyst. I can’t spell the word analyst, but I can tell you one thing, I know what the heck we’re doing! It’s a great honor to be here.”
Kiffin and his wife, Robin, arrived from Oxford, Miss., where he is a consultant on the Rebels’ football staff. The head coach is his son, Lane, whom the elder Kiffin followed to Tennessee, Southern Cal, Florida Atlantic and now Ole Miss.
The Bucs surprised Kiffin on his 80th birthday last year with news that he had been selected for the team’s Ring of Honor. But due to COVID-19, his induction was delayed a year and will be at halftime of the Sept. 19 game against Atlanta.
“If you know me, I’m the kind of guy that says it like it is,” Kiffin said with that charming smile. “I’m not a brown-noser or something like that. I’m real. I think that’s what coaching is, to be real. It’s about the players, okay?”
Kiffin’s voice starts to get louder and ascend to a higher octave with every syllable. It’s 2021, but it could just as easily be 1996 or 1997 or 2002 or 2008.
“The biggest thing is the memories,” Kiffin said. “We always talked about playing hard, playing fast and playing together. Now let me tell you something: it doesn’t take talent to play hard! Okay? It’s right here in the heart. Play together as a team! Okay? Play together as a team! Play hard and play fast! That ball is snapped, whewwwww! You got to go! You got to pass rush! Play hard, play fast and play together! It’s all about playing hard together as a team! If you can’t play together as a team, you don’t belong with this defense! Okay?”
Kiffin slams his fist on the lectern. Bang!
“It hasn’t changed!”
Kiffin has always credited the Bucs players for his success, but it might be the other way around.
As an introductory film played to begin Wednesday’s news conference, Ring of Honor players from his defense such as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Ronde Barber spoke in reverent tones about Kiffin.
“He’s a ball coach and he was going to a standard that might have been a little bit higher than my own,” said Sapp, smiling.
“I think, first, when you think about Monte, you think about the enthusiasm that he brings to the game and every single day,” Brooks said.
“When I think of Ring of Honor, I think the best representation of your franchise, they’ve got to be legendary people,” Barber said. “A lot of legends from our Tampa-2 defense are up there. It goes without saying that the architect of that or at least the guy who was calling the plays every single Sunday deserves to be up there, and you can’t talk about our defense without talking about Monte Kiffin.”
Then Lynch, the 49ers general manager who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, appeared.
“That defense that he coordinated was the best that ever played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” he said. “Monte was the coordinator of it. He became part of the fabric of the Tampa community. He was so beloved.”
Kiffin was asked what he imagines it will be like at a sold-out Raymond James Stadium when they unveil his name in the Ring of Honor alongside 13 others. He is the first assistant coach the Bucs have inducted.
“Oh, wow,” Kiffin said. “I know this is just the press conference, it’s not the real deal. It kind of brings a tear to your eye but I’m not going to do that. It’s pretty emotional. But it’s going to be pretty special. It really is.
“It’s all about the fans now. You talk about the players and this and that. But how about the fans in this place? They can get you rockin’. They can get you excited. Sometimes, I’d walk out in this place for warmups and I’d go down and watch the other team warm up and they would be fired up!
“It’s a great sports town; that’s quite evident right now.”
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