Monte Kiffin is currently a defensive assistant with the Jaguars. He has amassed 50 years of coaching experience, and in that time has been labeled as one of the greatest defensive minds of all time. He fathered the famous "Tampa 2" defense. The most famous of his coaching stints in the NFL came during the 12 years he spent in Tampa Bay, where his defense helped lead the Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl win in franchise history over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. He has coached Hall of Famers such as Derrick Brooks, and Warren Sapp, and future Hall of Famers in Ronde Barber, and John Lynch. His "Tampa 2" defense, and variants of it, is still used today in the NFL.
Kerry Belkin: Coach, you once helped build one of the greatest defenses of all time from scratch, what are the keys to building that caliber of defense?
Monte Kiffin: Well it takes some time. We weren’t real good in 1996, ’97, got a little better in ’98, we got better yet. Kind of what Gus is doing here, and the whole organization. I think it takes some time but the owner has been patient, so has Gus and the rest of the staff. I think we’ll get it done, I think we’re off to a good start, but it does take time. It took ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99 then in 1999 we really hit it.
KB: This organization has put together an impressive roster defensively, what do they have to do to become elite in this league?
MK: Well we just have to keep practicing better every day. I think Coach Bradley has done a great job, and Todd Wash, of just staying the course. Don’t worry about about who we play the first game, just get better every single day. We have some good free agents, we have some good draft picks. We’re trying to bring everybody together. We’ve got a chance now, we really do, but we’re just being real quiet right now, let’s just practice and get better.
KB: There’s a lot of optimism, as well as high expectations surrounding this defense. What are your expectations for this team as we get closer to the year?
MK: Well, your expectations are really high, but you don’t do that with the preseason, like I said, you just get better every day. I think that’s Gus’ approach. Stay the course, just play the preseason games, but then your last preseason game, you hope you’re better than your first preseason game. Then of course, you open up and you’ve got to go.
KB: What do you think the defense needs to improve on?
MK: Well I think Todd Wash and Gus both talked about explosive plays. The name of the game is explosive offense and defense. Greg Olson came in here last year and put up some big numbers and explosive offense. Now defensively, we’ve got to go the other way. Coach Wash has worked really hard, and Coach Bradley, on cutting down on explosion plays on defense. I think our players are buying into it and I think we’ve got a chance.
KB: In 1995, your Buccaneers drafted Derrick Brooks, who was considered to be too small to play that position. Telvin Smith faced that same criticism coming out of the draft. How similar are they as players?
MK: Well, Telvin’s got a ways to go before he’s Derrick Brooks, you’re talking about a Hall of Famer, but it took Derrick a few years too, but Telvin will do the same. Telvin is very similar. I’ll say one thing that’s very similar, they’re Florida State guys. Those Seminoles are tough. He’ll get better, he really does. He’s a will backer, same position, everything else, he’s just young. He’s had a good camp, and I think we’re all impressed with Telvin.
KB: What are your expectation for your rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey?
MK: I think Jalen Ramsey is a pretty darn good cornerback. He’s good on the outside, he’s good at nickel, but he’s still young. And we’ve got some good veteran corners here so there’s a lot of good competition right now.
KB: Where does his potential stack up compared to some of the other great defensive players you’ve coached?
MK: Well I think we saw it during the draft. Dave (Caldwell) and the personnel people did a great job, along with Gus. Sometimes you miss on the first rounders, you never know, but they didn’t miss on Jalen Ramsey, I’ll promise you right now. He’s a player.
KB: What does this defense need to accomplish this year for you to consider the year a success?
MK: Well we just have to take it one game at a time and try to get better. I think you’ll see, win, lose, or draw, we want to win, win, win. But are we getting better from the first game, second game, third game of the year? We’ve got a tough schedule (at the start) with the Green Bay Packers, what more do you want than that? But we’ve just got to play within ourselves and we’ve got a chance to get better.
KB: What about the team as a whole? What do they have to accomplish this year?
MK: Well, the team as a whole has got it. The offense has got it now, the defense will get it going, the special teams has been good, and I think with the offense being so explosive, and I think Greg Olson did a great job here last year, it’s come over to the defense now. The defense thinks “Wow, we’ve got an offense now, we’ve got to get our stuff together.” And that’s what we’re working to do.
KB: You’ve been around the NFL a long time, what’s the most important piece of advice you’re looking to give the coaches and players?
MK: Well, Gus has got a big board, a big sign in there that says “Play hard, play fast, play together.” I mean that’s what it’s all about. If you play hard and play fast on both sides of the ball, and you play together as a team…Gus has put together a good team, we’ve just got to win some games, but it’s gonna happen.