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Monte Kiffin to become Tennessee Volunteer defensive coordinator

Attention all high school defensive players with five stars next to your names: The best defensive mind in the NFL is coming to Tennessee, and he wants to show you the way.

Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin yesterday confirmed that he would be leaving the Bucs to come to Tennessee as the Vols' defensive coordinator under his son, new head coach Lane Kiffin. Monte is widely regarded as the best, and almost universally regarded as one of the best, defensive coordinators in the NFL. Not college. The N.F.L. And he's coming to Tennessee. Somebody say woo for exemptions from the nepotism policy!

After 26 seasons in the NFL and 13 with the Buccaneers, Kiffin is the longest tenured defensive coordinator in the league:

1959-1963 Nebraska Offensive/Defensive Tackle
1966-1972 Nebraska Assistant
1973-1976 Nebraska Defensive Coordinator
1977-1978 Arkansas Defensive Coordinator
1979 Arkansas Assistant Head Coach
1980-1982 North Carolina State Head Coach
1983 Green Bay Packers Linebackers Coach
1984-1985 Buffalo Bills Linebackers Coach
1986-1989 Minnesota Vikings Linebackers Coach
1990 New York Jets Linebackers Coach
1991 Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator
1992-1994 Minnesota Vikings Linebackers Coach
1995 New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator
1996-2008 Tampa Bay Buccanneers Defensive Coordinator

After bouncing around with a general trend upward and toward more responsbility, Kiffin latched on with Tampa Bay as the Bucs' defensive coordinator in 1996 and has been there ever since. When Tampa Bay fired Tony Dungy in 2001, Jon Gruden convinced Kiffin to stay on and to continue to run the defense for which Kiffin was becoming famous: the Tampa 2. The Bucs won the Super Bowl the next season.

So what exactly is the Tampa 2?

Apparently, the Tampa 2 is just a modified version of the Cover 2, which essentially just means that the two safeties are deep defenders, each responsible for their own half of the field. So what makes Monte's Tampa 2 different from the Cover 2?

  • Smaller. Faster. Better. Kiffin's defensive tackles may be as large as other linemen, but to play in his scheme, they must also be fast. His defensive ends look more like linebackers, and his linebackers look more like safeties. Having faster players at all positions enables the defense to line up in what an opposing QB will read as a Cover 2 and then to shift into a Cover 3 with the middle linebacker dropping back into pass protection in a middle zone a bit more shallow than the zones for which the safeties are responsible. Speed is essential not only for the MLB responsible for covering a receiver but also for the folks rushing the QB so that the passer doesn't have time to get comfortable and into that nasty pick-apart-the-zone groove. Cue the Ballroom Blitz. The Bucs have recorded a staggering 474 sacks during Kiffin's tenure.
  • Keep it simple, swindle. The Tampa 2 is often characterized as a very simple scheme, but it's emphasis on dictating the action, attacking the ball, and stealing possession by stripping the ball from carriers or picking it off passers makes it extraordinarily effective. Kiffin's Bucs have piled up a whopping 375 takeaways in 12 seasons, which is tied for sixth in the NFL. They're also tied for sixth in the NFL for scoring 19 defensive touchdowns since 2002.
  • Bend like an Asian contortionist and break like carbon nanotubes. Kiffin cares not how many yards you gain against his defense. He cares only if you score points. Expect his defenders to keep the plays in front of them and to keep big plays from happening at all costs, including allowing a multitude of successful short plays in front of them. Hmm. That sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it Vol fans? Yes, but if it gives you a bad vibe, just keep in mind that our defense, even in this Season of Constant Sorrow, was fourth in the nation in total defense.
  • Got it. Standard Cover 2. Hike! . . . Wha????!!! Kiffin disguises his defenses not by varying the formation or personnel but by using the same alignments and players and then having them do different things post-snap.
  • Consistency. In 2002, the Bucs finished the regular season as the top-ranked unit in the NFL. They did it again in 2005. In 2007, they finished 2nd. Slackers. That 2002 defense? Magnificent. In that year, they were the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the league in total defense (252.8 ypg), fewest points allowed (196) and total interceptions (31). They concluded the season with a Super Bowl victory over the (irony alert!) Oakland Raiders during which they recorded a Super Bowl-record five interceptions, including three that were returned for touchdowns. Eric Berry loves you, Mr. Kiffin.

So yeah, this is huge. Kiffin will reportedly get $1,000,000 as Tennessee's defensive coordinator, which sounds like an astounding amount of money for a coordinator until you consider that Will Muschamp is set to earn $900,000 beginning this January. Muschamp's resume looks a lot like Kiffin's -- for the first four lines. He's missing the extra ten.

With $1M going to Monte, that still leaves at least $1.5M left for the rest of UT's assistant coaches. So who is Lane going to pull out of the air for his OC?