Martin Fennelly Columns
Fennelly: Bucs Are All About Kiffin, But Blood Is Blood
TAMPA - Bucs are Bucs. But blood is blood. That's what it will probably come down to in the not-so-curious case of near-legendary Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who appears ready to take the plunge after this season to join his son Lane at the University of Tennessee. We might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves, since Lane Kiffin, having been ousted by Al Davis and the Raiders' bunker, has yet to be introduced in Knoxville.But this seems more than a rumor or mere speculation. I think Monte will be hard to keep this time around. Yes, there have been rumors in the past: Monte to head coach his alma mater, the University of Nebraska, or a few years ago, when a lot of people had Kiffin going to join his son in Oakland. But this one makes sense. Kiffin was swarmed by the media Sunday after the Bucs beat New Orleans to improve to 9-3. The man who could design a defense to keep that bullet from entering Plaxico Burress' leg couldn't stop the attention, though he wanted to and, as usual, had nothing much to say. I really don't blame him. What's to say, anyway? Yeah, I'm leaving. Or, yeah, blood is blood. That's the thing here. Kiffin is the highest paid coordinator in the NFL at $2 million per season. He's 68 and had won a Super Bowl and made enough great defenses for any three coaches. He is the man behind the curtains for the Bucs. Jon Gruden won his 100th game as an NFL head coach Sunday, and as with a lot of the Buc victories, it was a Monte Kiffin defense that rode to the rescue. Gruden talked about the great schemes Kiffin came up with to stop Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints. And Gruden, whose name was thrown around with regards to the Tennessee head coaching job just a few weeks ago, said this about his defensive coordinator: "Monte can answer those questions. I know this: We don't want to lose him." The problem is Lane Kiffin needs help, real help, in Knoxville. He just took a major hit in Oakland, Davis insanity or not. He needs a winner at Tennessee or his young coaching career takes a real hit, a serious hit. He needs help from his pop. For all I know, Lane might have promised he would get his dad between the salad and steak at the big interview dinner. Maybe it was a package deal. "Who wouldn't want to work with his son," said Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips, who, living Monte's mantra, made the big interception Sunday to set up Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal. That's the thing: blood on blood. Yes, there's the other side, and it's a mighty one. "He has a pretty good gig here, too, now," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. Uh, the Bucs have had it pretty good, too. "He's everything to us," Barber said. "He's the architect, no doubt about it. He has great assistant coaches, but it all trickles down from him. He will go down, always, no matter what he does, if he decided to stay here another 20 years, as the guy who built this defense into one of the greatest in the history of football." That's not speculation. It's the truth. Kiffin has raised seemingly generations of players to play his game. He is one of the great blocks of granite in Bucs history, as much a constant as his favorite linebacker, Derrick Brooks - Monte, always there, all seeing, all knowing, always with an inside track on how to get it done. Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Rudd remembers the first time he walked into a linebackers meeting at the old One Buc Place. "Monte was asleep on the couch," Ruud said with a grin. He'd been there all night, working, plotting. That's Monte. That will always be Monte. It's hard to imagine the Bucs without him. "Oh, man, it's different," Phillips said. "It's like thinking of John Lynch in a Denver uniform. You think of Tampa and you see Monte." Part of me loves the idea of Monte Kiffin holed up in his Knoxville office at 2 in the morning, trying to outfox Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and the SEC. Do it, Monte, do it. Part of me thinks of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, the great NFL offensive coordinator brought to his knees. Don't do it, Monte, don't do it. It makes sense, though. What else does Monte Kiffin need to do here? Is a new title, more money, going to keep him here? He can always come back. But your son is your son. Lane Kiffin needs his dad. And dad is listening. The Bucs don't want to lose him. The Glazers don't. Gruden doesn't. And the men who play defense for Monte Kiffin would stand in front of the plane on the runway if it would help. I'd be surprised if it did this time. Monte Kiffin wasn't biting Sunday. He wouldn't talk about Tennessee. "All I'm staying focused on is 'Monday Night Football', Carolina Panthers, and what we just did here." Maybe we need full disclosure here. Maybe Monte should fess up, and we can all be done with it. It probably won't happen. But I just have a feeling this time around. The Bucs are the Bucs. Monte has given his heart and soul to this team. But blood is blood.