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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Monte Kiffin to Receive Hall of Fame's Award of Excellence

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will recognize Monte Kiffin's incredible coaching career, which included 13 memorable seasons as the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator, during a special ceremony in Canton in June

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One of the greatest careers of any kind to unfold within the confines of Tampa Bay Buccaneers history will now be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On Wednesday, the Hall of Fame announced the 15 recipients of this year's Awards of Excellence, a program that was launched two years ago to recognize significant contributions to the game by those outside of the ranks of players and head coaches. This year, one of those recipients is Monte Kiffin, the Buccaneers' long-time defensive coordinator and the architect of one of the most potent defenses in NFL history.

The recipients come from five categories of NFL occupations: assistant coaches, athletic trainers, equipment managers, film/video directors and public relations personnel. That Kiffin is one of the first nine assistant coaches to receive this incredible honor is a testament to the impact he had on the league and the game of football.

Kiffin is the second Tampa Bay coach to be given the Award of Excellence, joining Tom Moore, who received that honor last year. In addition, Dave Levy, who was the Buccaneers' video director for nearly three decades, is joining Kiffin in the Class of 2024. As was the case with Moore, Kiffin and Levy will be celebrated with a plaque describing their career accomplishments in a special wing of the Hall of Fame in Canton. All of the 2024 Award of Excellence honorees will be honored in a ceremony in Canton in late June.

Kiffin spent 13 seasons (1996-2008) as the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator and he was the architect of one of the most sustained eras of defensive excellence for any team in NFL history. Hired first to join Tony Dungy's new staff in 1996, he stayed in his position in 2002 when the Buccaneers hired Jon Gruden as their new head coach in 2002. During those combined 13 seasons, Tampa Bay's defense allowed the fewest points per game (17.5) while ranking second in both yards allowed per game (286.8) and total takeaways (293). Kiffin helped the Buccaneers' defensive stars master the Cover Two scheme, to the point that is now more commonly referred to in NFL circles as the "Tampa Two."

The Buccaneers' honored Kiffin's abundant accomplishments three years ago when he became the first, and to this point, only assistant coach in the team's Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. During a 2021 press conference, he was introduced by Owner/Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer, who underscored how critical Kiffin's efforts were in the quest to build the Buccaneers into a championship contender. Now those same efforts, and Kiffin's long and distinguished career overall, are being celebrated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Monte Kiffin led the Tampa Two defense that became the signature identity of our team in the late '90s and eventually propelled us to our first Super Bowl championship," said Glazer.  "It wasMonte's coaching, leadership and ability to maximize the strengths of his players that elevated that defense to one of the most feared units of its time. Congratulations to Monte and the entire Kiffin family on this extremely well-deserved honor." 

In Kiffin's first year at the helm of the Bucs' defense, that unit improved from 27th in the NFL's yardage rankings in 1995 to 11th in 1996. That crew then surged to the third spot in the rankings in 1997 as the Buccaneers broke a 15-year postseason drought and started a run of seven playoff seasons over an 11-year period. During his 11 years with the team, Kiffin directed a defense that ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed 11 times and in points allowed 12 times. That included eight top-five finishes and two number-one rankings, in 2002 and 2005. He got the most out of such rising defensive legends as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Rondé Barber, all of whom have subsequently been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"When I think of the Ring of Honor, the best representation of your franchise, they've got to be legendary people, and a lot of legends from our Tampa Two defense are up there," said Barber in 2021. "It goes without saying that the architect of that, or at least the guy that was calling the plays every single Sunday, deserves to be up there. You can't talk about our defense without starting with talking about Monte Kiffin.

"Yeah, you can say Brooks and Lynch and Sapp and myself and Brian Kelly and Simeon Rice – all the names are there – but none of that was really possible without Monte."

And that championship quest was ultimately successful when the Buccaneers trounced the Oakland Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season. That 2002 defense is widely regarded as one of the best in NFL history, and it capped an incredible season by setting still-standing Super Bowl records with five interceptions and three pick-sixes.

"That defense that Monte coordinated was the best unit that had ever played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Monte was the coordinator of it," said Lynch. "He became part of the fabric of the Tampa community; he was so beloved."

Kiffin's defenses continually found ways to create big plays. In one of the most incredible streaks in league history, the Buccaneers strung together 50 consecutive games between the 2000 and 2003 seasons in which they recorded at least one sack and at least one takeaway. That ranked as the longest such streak in NFL annals and it hasn't been matched since.

His players saw the fruits of that labor, not only winning a championship but also earning a combined 36 Pro Bowl invitations during those 13 seasons. At least one Bucs defender made the Pro Bowl in each of those years. Six different Tampa Bay defenders earned Associated Press All-Pro honors during Kiffin's tenure as well. Sapp was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and Brooks earned the same honor in 2002.

"I think first of all when you think of Monte you think of his enthusiasm that he brings to the game every single day, even at his young age," said Brooks with a laugh. "He brought it every day. It was about teaching, making sure from a defensive standpoint we understood the why behind everything that we did."

Kiffin spent 52 seasons as a football coach, the longest stretch of it with the Buccaneers from 1996-2008. That also makes him the longest-tenured coach in Tampa Bay's franchise history. His coaching career included a stint as the head coach at North Carolina State, but at the NFL level he was content to perfect his craft as a coordinator. Kiffin also played in the Canadian Football League before beginning his coaching career at the University of Nebraska in 1996. He later had stops on the collegiate level at Arkansas, Tennessee, USC, Florida Atlantic and Ole Miss.

Kiffin first jumped to the NFL ranks in 1983, joining the Green Bay Packers as a linebackers coach. From there, he moved on to the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings (twice), New York Jets and New Orleans Saints before Dungy called him to join him in Tampa in 1996. Subsequent to his long stint with the Buccaneers, Kiffin also coached for the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars, including the 2013 season as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator.

"His personality was just so outgoing," said Dungy. "He just fired the players up. And I got something from him that way, because I'm not an emotional type of guy. I was more the intellectual coach, but he coached energy, and he coached effort and enthusiasm, and it worked for us."

Many of the Buccaneers' defensive team records were set while Kiffin was the coordinator. The 2002 team allowed the fewest points (196) and points per game (12.3) in team history and also set Buc marks for lowest passer rating (48.4) and completion percentage (50.8%) allowed. The 2000 squad set the team single-season standard with 55 sacks. The 1999 team surrendered only 228 first downs, another team record. The 1998 defense allowed a franchise-low 31.7% third-down conversion rate. Seven of the 11 shutouts in Buccaneers history occurred under Kiffin's watch.

In 2002, Kiffin was named the Assistant Coach of the Year by both Football Digest and the Pro Football Writers Association after his defensive unit became the first since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the league in points allowed (196), yards allowed per game (252.8) and interceptions (31). The 196 points allowed remain the fifth-fewest in a 16-game season in NFL history.

"Monte was one of a kind," said Sapp. "That voice, the energy – everything about him, he's a ball coach and he's going to hold me to a standard that might have been a little higher than my own."

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