UT's spring chicken

You'd think that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, at age 69, would savor those quiet, relaxing hours he spends away from Tennessee's youthful football players.

In fact, the opposite is true. Kiffin loves his time with the Vols so much he'd spend even more with them except for one thing: NCAA rules limit coaches to 20 hours per week with players. There is no such limitation in the National Football League, where Kiffin spent the past 26 years, so that has been a major adjustment for the legendary defensive mastermind.

"The hardest thing for me is all the rules," he said recently. "The 20-hour rule or whatever ... I'm used to hanging around there (with) guys who want to get some extra work. You can't do that here."

Although he is older than the grandfathers of many Tennessee players, Kiffin has a tremendous rapport with the youthful Vols. They are as impressed with his charisma, wit and energy as they are with his football expertise. He, in turn, is impressed with their determination to improve. And he's convinced he could help them improve even more if he had more time with them. But, as noted previously, the NCAA says 20 hours per week is the maximum.

"I wish we didn't have all of these rules," Kiffin said, shaking his head. "This is my first year back (at the collegiate level), so I'm not going to call the NCAA about changing all of these rules. I don't think that would go over real big but I think there's a lot of rules. That's probably been the biggest transition (from NFL to NCAA) for me."

At an age when most men are content teaching their grandkids how to recite nursery rhymes and the alphabet, Monte Kiffin is teaching other people's grandkids how to disguise blitzes and coverages. It's taxing work but it seems to keep him young and energized.

"I feel pretty good right now," he said. "I just love coming out to practice, seeing guys get better. That gets me excited."

Likewise, Tennessee's players are excited about learning the "Tampa-2" scheme that Kiffin originated during his days coordinating the defense of the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs. The Vols made some headway during spring practice but still have a ways to go before they fully grasp the scheme, which is significantly different from the one utilized by former UT defensive coordinator John Chavis. Kiffin believes his troops will be fine once they've had more time to master the new system.

"It doesn't matter if it's me or anybody else coming in – Coach Chavis going to LSU – it's going to be a transition for the players," he said. "Anytime you bring in a new system that's just the way it is.

"It's not the scheme, it's just new."


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