On Saturday, April 8, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin sat down to answer 20 questions as part of the 'Your Turn' interview series on Buccaneers.com. The questions used to interview Kiffin were submitted by Buccaneers.com users and were presented to Kiffin using the fan's name and hometown. The following is a transcript of that interview.
Moderator: It is Saturday, April 8, 2000 and today we're here with Monte Kiffin, defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coach Kiffin, I know there's a lot of stuff going on right now, so thank you for taking the time to spend with us.
Monte Kiffin: It's alright...always good to talk about defense.
Moderator: This is part of interview series called 'Your Turn', so named because the questions I'm going to ask you were sent in by actual Buccaneer fans using Buccaneers.com. As you know, you've built a defense that is the only one in the league to rank in the top three each of the last three years, so we have a lot of satisfied Buccaneers fans out there. But, believe it or not, they still have many, many questions for you.
Monte Kiffin: That's good. Fire away!
Chas from Rochester, New York: Each year there seems to be one Buccaneer player on the defense who comes out and exceeds all fan expectations. Who should the fans be looking out for this year?
Monte Kiffin: Well, Chas, I think it's hard to say, but you'd better watch 'Booger' McFarland...he's getting better, he's out there working every day right now in the offseason...and hopefully, Jamie Duncan. You'll say, 'Hey, Hardy Nickerson, as good as he was, we sure like what we see in Jamie Duncan.
Mike from Orlando, Florida: Often when I see you on the sidelines at Raymond James Stadium, you are as fired up as us the crowd. Even at our pep rally in the summer, you are the most fired-up member of the team. How is it that you are one of the few coaches that display such energetic emotion on the field, and how does your enthusiasm mix with Tony Dungy's demeanor?
Monte Kiffin: Well, everybody has got to be themselves. Tony's more of a low-key type guy. What you don't need is 11 Monte Kiffins out there jumping around, because I do get kind of excited. That's the way I've always coached, and Tony coaches his style. But we even did this in Minnesota when he was the coordinator and I was linebackers coach, but I think it's a nice mix. He offsets me a little bit and perhaps I offset him. But, believe me, there's a lot of ways you can do it. It doesn't matter how much you holler, how much enthusiasm you show, the players have got to go do it.
Mohammad from Carteret, New Jersey: With your defense being one of the best in the league, do you think it can be improved in any way possible?
Monte Kiffin: Well, you've always got to get better. You can't stay the same. When we came here in '96, we were ranked 11th, then we went to third and to second, but we've never been number one in defense. I think that would still be a goal we'd like to get to. But even with that, it's not just so much stats, it's that we can always get better. We played really well, we had a great 1999 season, but there were a couple times in there – on the road against Green Bay lost the game at the end of the game, against the Vikings it's 21-0 before you sit down – we can't have those types of games. And I'm not even going to talk about the Raider game.
Glenn from St. Petersburg, Florida: I have often seen you park outside of the stadium where I often tailgate. I was wondering why you chose that location rather than in the stadium with the players and other coaches?
Monte Kiffin: Well, the main reason is because my wife takes my spot! That's why I park over there across the street from Himes. We have a place over in Legends Field I could park in, but I kind of got used to parking over here on Himes with all you tailgaters. When I get out of my car and start to walk across the street a couple of hours before the game, you people are over there and you're all cheering, "Go, Monte! Go defense!" It kind of gets me fired up for the games, so I just keep parking there.
Moderator: Do you get a few suggestions from fans?
Monte Kiffin: Oh, yeah, I get a few of those two, especially afterwards if we don't play good.
Kim from Ft. Myers, Florida: Will Anthony McFarland play a larger role in the defense this season?
Monte Kiffin: Yes, I think so, Kim. Well, he definitely will. Like I mentioned earlier, he's getting better and better all the time and he's an outstanding football player. Brad Culpepper and Warren Sapp are the two best defensive tackles in the NFL, no doubt about it. Those two work so good together. But, with McFarland coming in there, he gives them a nice break. He needs to play more, and that gives them more rest. So, really, I think we'll eventually have a rotation of three tackles.
Frank from New Port Richey, Florida: Are you concerned with the lack of size of our cornerbacks, since our division seems to have some very tall wide receivers: Randy Moss, Cris Carter, etc?
Monte Kiffin: Right, Frank, we're always concerned about that. But, you know, you can go get these big corners, but they can't run, they can't hit, they can't cover, they don't have good skills. You just can't go by that. We have to go by who's the best corner, whether he be 5-9, 5-10, 6-foot, 6-2. We do like the bigger corners, we draft a little bit bigger corners then some people do. But, in the same sense, they've got to be able to cover. No matter how big or how tall or how much you weigh or how much you bench press or what you run the 40-yard dash in, you'd better be able to tackle. Our corners tackle better than anybody in the NFL.
Michael, New Port Richey, Florida: How would you compare the skills of Jamie Duncan versus Hardy Nickerson and how will this impact how you approach organizing the defense this year?
Monte Kiffin: Yeah, good question, Michael. No doubt about it...I'm sure a lot of people have the same question. Hardy was a tremendous football player (for us) and we'll miss Hardy. I'll tell you why you'll miss Hardy Nickerson: Hardy was going into his 14th year. Jamie Duncan has started six games in his career. That's the difference. But, now, Hardy Nickerson was that third-year player at one time, started for the Pittsburgh Steelers, became a starter, then became a Pro Bowl player later on in his career. Jamie Duncan has the ability to do that, but he hasn't done it yet. We feel good about Jamie. Jamie has very good pass skills. Probably in the running game, he won't be as good right off the bat as Hardy. Hardy just has that tremendous experience of recognizing formations, recognizing blocking schemes, recognizing if they're doing this or doing that. That's what, with Jamie, will only come with time.
Lisa from St. Petersburg, Florida: Who will be making the on the field calls, now that Hardy Nickerson has left for Jacksonville? Will it be Derrick Brooks, or will Jamie Duncan pick up those responsibilities?
Monte Kiffin: No, Lisa, we'll still go with Jamie Duncan. That's our 'mike' backer, and he's the signal-caller, and Jamie has had the experience of doing it. Derrick Brooks won't make the calls in the huddle, he won't run the huddle. But, now, believe me, Derrick Brooks will step up and be a leader on this defense. That doesn't mean that Brooks won't say, 'Hey, Jamie, let me say something here.' It won't be necessarily the defensive kill, the signal from Lovie Smith, the linebackers coach. It will be like, 'Hey guys, I'll tell you what, we've got to step it up, we're not getting the job done.' That's the kind of leadership that Derrick Brooks will give us on the field.
Dean from Largo, Florida: Monte, with the possibility of a more potent offense in the works, will you add any more risk to your scheme to force turnovers/lost yardage?
Monte Kiffin: Well, first off, I like that word 'potent' on offense. That fires me up, and that will fire up our defensive players, too. But, no, not necessarily. We're still going to play our style. It doesn't really matter what our offense does. But as far as the turnovers, we need to get more turnovers and we need to get more of them early in the year. We finished up the last half of the season, we really had some nice turnovers. And you notice, that's when we got the six-game winning streak going, we got the turnovers, we got the offense in good field position. So, from the get-go, we've just got to get more turnovers no matter how we do it.
Michael from Chapel Hill, North Carolina: I'm a big fan of your defensive scheme. How much of that scheme were you using during your college coaching career at State or Nebraska?
Monte Kiffin: Well, first of all, Michael, I should have been at Chapel Hill instead of Raleigh! When I went in there and took the job at North Carolina State, they didn't tell me that all of the players were at North Carolina. I want to tell you, the first time I lined up to play against North Carolina, they had a guy named Kelvin Bryant as tailback, and they had a guy named Lawrence Taylor playing defensive linebacker. When we ran the option, Lawrence Taylor played the dive, the quarterback and the pitch. I mean, that guy played all three! But, anyway, back to your question. Yeah, a lot of this is a college scheme. We played Nebraska when I was at Arkansas with Lou Holtz, and there's a lot of carry-over. And of course, it's come a long way since then. But it doesn't matter if it's high school, college or the pros, whether you coached it back in the '70s, '80s or '90s or the year 2000, it's still 11 against 11. That hasn't changed. You have to block and you have to tackle. On defense, of course, you've got to tackle, and you've got to hustle. You've got to be fundamentally sound, and you've got to play with tremendous intensity, and you've got to have tremendous chemistry on defense, like we do here.
Jon from Nashville, Tennessee: With the upcoming draft, the priority this season seems to be on the offensive side of the ball. The same was the case in last year's draft but we took the best player available in "Booger" McFarland. Do you see us doing the same thing this year if there's a high profile defensive player still on the board at 13?
Monte Kiffin: I think so. I think you'll see the same thing, and I don't think it's by choice. If the right offensive guy was there, we'll take him, but sometimes it doesn't shake out that way. At 13, there may not be a real good offensive player, but yet, there might be, so you don't know. I think that we're thinking offense, but, again, you've got to respect our people here – Rich McKay, Tony, Tim Ruskell, Jerry Angelo, our personnel people – they take the best player. More than not, if you take the best player, you're going to be better off in the long run.
Steve from Wilmington, Delaware: Who is the best defensive player you have ever coached and why?
Monte Kiffin: Well, gosh, that's a tough question. I've coached and had the opportunity to be around a lot of great football players. You know, I usually don't avoid a question, but that might be one I avoid because I wouldn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. And I don't even know if I can tell you for sure. I'd probably have to pick out four or five. If I mentioned one, I'd probably have to mention four more.
Anthony from Saltville, Virginia: Last season our defense always seemed to play a bit slow in the first quarter of the game and then gained intensity as the game progressed. What caused the slow starts and what changes, if any, will be made to get the guys out to a stronger start?
Monte Kiffin: Well, I know what you mean, and I don't know why either. It did seem like we started out a little bit slow and got stronger and stronger. The second series of the game against St. Louis, they go right down the field and score, then they don't hardly do anything the rest of the game until right at the very end when they hit the long pass. Maybe we need to tell our players that the game is starting an hour earlier. If it's a one o'clock kickoff, tell them, 'Hey, the kickoff is at 12 o'clock, so have your pre-game meal at seven o'clock instead of nine o'clock', or whatever. But I know what you mean and we have to get off to a good start.
Scott from Tampa, Florida: Can you describe the prototypical athlete that would thrive in your defensive philosophy, as far as his size, speed, etc.?
Monte Kiffin: We don't care about the size, we don't care about the speed. We care about how big your heart is. If you've got a big heart, if you want to hustle and you want to fly to the football and you want to be a team player - the most important thing with this defense is, don't be a selfish player. If you're a selfish player, you don't fit in. We play as a team.
Sue from Brandon: How many hours do you spend watching tape on your next opponent? Is it easier when you play someone in the division or do they change up plays enough that you have to study them as much as any other?
Monte Kiffin: We study hours of hours of tape. That's our whole deal. The whole staff does. Tape doesn't lie, so we get a good feel for what is happening. You have to be careful...we study tape more than the players. The players can study too much, believe it or not, because then they'll start guessing and try to over-analyze what their opponent is doing. Personally, I like playing the people outside the division, because the division gets to know you so well. Like, when we go play the Washington Redskins or the St. Louis Rams, they're not quite as ready for us as Vikings and the Green Bay Packers because they don't see us every year.
Greg from Tampa, Florida: I really enjoyed your segment on Fox's "Buc's Sunday", with Chip Carter. Will this continue next season and are you ever going to name a play after Chip as he so often requests on the show?
Monte Kiffin: Well, the first thing we're going to do is look into replacing Chip. I'm going to be back for sure! No, I'm just kidding. I hope Chip's not watching. No, Chip's a great guy to work with, and they do a good job. I don't know, I haven't heard anything about it, but hopefully we'll do the show again because it's kind of fun.
Ruben from Austin, Texas: The Bucs' secondary is one of the best in the NFL, and a lot of that can be attributed to their tough physical play. How do you coach the secondary to aggressive in coverage and in tackling without giving up many big plays and with few penalties?
Monte Kiffin: Well, Herm Edwards, our secondary coach, does a great job with that. Again, it's just the emphasis. We tackle once a week in practice with the shields. In teamwork and seven-on-seven, we go to the football, we tag off, we button up, we point out missed tackles, we point out solos, assisted tackles, how many tackles did you have. We expect our secondary to tackle just like our linebackers, and we do put a lot of pressure on them. That's a good question, and I think the credit goes to Coach Edwards.
Ashley from Palm Harbor, Florida: Would you consider John McLaughlin playing linebacker next year?
Monte Kiffin: No, we would not. He's better with his hand down. He's definitely a defensive end; he's never really played linebacker. But he will play more. He's really having a good offseason right now, too. He's definitely a guy we eventually could see getting on the field. I don't know how soon, how much, but we like the guy. We really do.
Ron from Kansas City: The Bucs' "D" is one of the most feared in the country. Can you describe what kind of chemistry has evolved among the defensive players and coaching staff over the past few years?
Monte Kiffin: Well, it really has. That's a nice question, and it's nice that you would observe that. We do talk about chemistry a lot. Our staff's been together, going on our fifth year. Fortunately, we can keep everybody together – that's a credit to Coach Dungy, management, ownership, and also to the fact that we've had great leaders like the Nickersons, like the Lynches, like the Brooks. I should also mention Culpepper, Warren Sapp, Chidi, on down the line. The nice thing about it is, when the younger players come in to fit in, they either fit in or they don't fit. They're not going to be here. It's not going to be so much the coaches; the players will tell them, 'You had better fall in line, you better not be some prima donna coming in here thinking you're going to take over this defense.' This is a team game, like I mentioned before, and you had better fit in. I promise you, if you don't fit in, you will not be here. I don't care how good you are, our team comes first.
Dominique from Quebec, Canada: I just wanted to know, what do you put the most effort into in your daily practice - timing, position, pursuit, opposing schemes...?
Monte Kiffin: Right, right, exactly right, Dominique. I best could answer that by the fact that we talk about in practice every day hustling to the football, tagging off, buttoning up. We don't go live, but we've got to have 11 guys going to the football. People probably won't understand this not being around football as much as we are, but even as a fan watching it...we talk about 'fit' drills. We fit up the run, we fit up the pass. Everybody has an assignment. As soon as that ball is snapped, everybody – whether it be 'China', 'two', 'six', 'barker', 'Frisco', 'fox', whatever the defense is – everybody has an assignment. We say you have to know what your assignment is and you have to 'fit' it up, know exactly where that ball is going to break. We do stress that a lot.
Moderator: Well, Coach, believe it or not, we've gone through the whole list of questions now, so again, thank you for taking your time with us.
Monte Kiffin: Good! A lot of good questions, and I like that because they're all about defense!