Full Monte: Defense Saves Bucs Again
Monte Kiffin emerged from the coaches dressing area in the Bucs locker room Sunday afternoon. Cameras, tape recorders and note pads awaited. He wore a Davy Crockett hat.

No he didn't. Nor was he in an orange blazer. Nor did he sing "Rocky Top."

And Kiffin didn't sing when it came to the report that he'll join his son Lane at the University of Tennessee after this, his 13th season of a legendary career as Bucs defensive coordinator. "It's all just speculation," Monte said.

Of course, Monte, you could end it ... But why sing? He'd already heard all the music, sweet music, he'd needed. His defense went out and stopped Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints with big plays, with Monte Kiffin defense.

The Bucs went to 9-3 with a 23-20 win. Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal was set up when Jermaine Phillips intercepted Brees deep in Saints territory with 2:24 left. Phillip Buchanon then sealed it with another pick with less than a minute remaining.

The Full Monte. He is one of the most important figures in Bucs history, as much a link with a proud past and proud present as Derrick Brooks. "He's everything to us," Ronde Barber said.

That's not speculation, either. It's still about Monte's guys bailing out the offense. It's still about the defense making the plays.

With rumors flying - it seems like a lot more than that this time around - it was fitting that the defense flew up to meet another challenge, namely the best offense in football and MVP candidate Brees. Remember, these guys just put up 51 points on Green Bay. Kiffin and his defense, burned by big Saints plays in the season opener at New Orleans.

The Bucs intercepted Brees three times - four times if you count Tanard Jackson's pick in the end zone, which was wiped out by awful officiating, that illegal-contact call on Barber, far from the play. But it was a defense day, a Monte day. Barber played a huge part, tipping away what looked like a touchdown pass from Brees to Jeremy Shockey into the arms of Bucs linebacker Cato June.

"He's one of those guys who step it up when he needs to," Barrett Ruud said. "He always seems to have his best games against the best offenses."

He was talking about Monte Kiffin. Phillips, just back from an arm injury, stepped up. "I was just looking at Drew Brees, following his eyes ... and he threw it and it came right to me and I was like a little kid at Christmas. My eyes got big and excited and I made a play."

A Monte defense kind of play. "Definitely," Phillips said.

On to Carolina - the game of the season. Monte Kiffin will be like a kid at Christmas. How will he sleep this week? How will Jon Gruden sleep if he ends up under Tennessee's tree?

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 1 December 2008