Not The Finish Kiffin Envisioned
An hour after the latest pewter travesty, Monte Kiffin slumped against a wall outside Tampa Bay's locker room to offer a very public goodbye. After 13 years of scheming, screaming and cajoling, the iconic defensive coordinator of the Buccaneers is walking away from the region and fan base he loves dearly.
The next time Kiffin patrols the Raymond James Stadium sidelines, Tennessee will be playing a Big Ten team in the Outback Bowl. "I didn't write a very good script, let's put it that way," Kiffin said in his opening statement after Tampa Bay failed to hold a 10-point advantage in the fourth quarter against Oakland en route to a crushing 31-24 setback. "The wheels fell off."
While Kiffin heads to Knoxville, Tenn., to work for his son, Lane, successor Raheem Morris must re-align a defense that played three of the worst games of the Kiffin era in the past month. Is it mere coincidence that those letdowns coincided with news of Kiffin's imminent departure?
"It kind of worked out that way ... but I didn't plan that," Kiffin said. "These players never let down. They busted their butts, but it just didn't work out. That wasn't the script I would have written. I kind of felt we let our offense down a little."
With the game in the balance, the offensively challenged Raiders dominated the fourth quarter, rolling up nine first downs while averaging 10.2 yards per snap and maintaining possession for 10:11. All this from an Oakland club that entered Sunday's game with the fewest first downs in the league. "You've got to get off on third down and you've got to win in the red zone - that's the story," Kiffin said. "Coach Gruden didn't lose this game today - put this one on Coach Kiff."
The 123 points allowed by the Bucs during their season-ending slide represents the worst four-game stretch of Kiffin's tenure. "I had a great run," said the man who always stoked the crowd during Tampa Bay's annual FanFest in June. "The hardest thing is you can't come back with the players this time. I just want to go back and start again from the last four weeks. It wasn't a good month. Why, I don't know."
Kiffin praised Morris as the right man for the job as the 68-year-old legend moves on to his next challenge - luring recruits to Knoxville and helping the Vols game-plan for Urban Meyer's imaginative playbook in Gainesville. "I feel so bad for Kiff," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "What a wonderful man, what a great coach. Right now, my heart's broken for him."
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 29 December 2008