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Kiffin's enthusiasm got an early start

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


TAMPA -- Little has changed since then.

Sure, time has caused gray hairs to sprout. Years and experiences have led to age spots and wrinkles. The eyes may not be as sharp, the reflexes slightly slower. But that's about it.

Back in 1968, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was a vibrant soul. He was a 28-year-old man driven by desire and emotion. A man who knew what he wanted, how to get it and what to say along the way. He was charismatic, enigmatic and always full of static.

He still is.

"I always wanted to coach; I knew I wanted to coach," Kiffin said, remembering his days as a graduate defensive assistant at the University of Nebraska. "I was very, I mean very, enthusiastic back then and still am today. Of course, I was single, didn't get married until I was 33 years old. I did date, and I wasn't a recluse, but I spent a lot of time watching football games, a lot of time watching film. It's amazing -- I still do that, don't I?"

The year the Packers beat the Raiders in Super Bowl II was a doozy, he said.

"I tell you what I remember," Kiffin said. "There was a strong safety for the Raiders whose name was Warren Powers, and he and I played together at Nebraska. He was a defensive back with me at Nebraska, and we were good friends. In the game, he hit the tight end a heavy shot and knocked himself out. ... He didn't play the rest of the game. I guess you can say it was the wrong time to get knocked out."

Watching him former teammate's plight confirmed to Kiffin how much he wanted to coach, to instruct about technique and mechanics.

"My goal was to be a college coach," he said. "I dreamt about it every day, every night. I was a (graduate assistant), and you know we call them gofers, and you know what that means. It means that I did everything, from cleaning toilets to whatever, I did everything they asked me to do. That's how bad I wanted it."

* * *

What words of wisdom would you have for the Monte Kiffin of 1968?

A: I would say that as a younger coach I was probably a little bit more stubborn, a little bit more bullheaded. I didn't get along with fellow coaches as well because I was so set in my ways. I would tell myself to be more flexible. Not to ease up in terms of demands on people, but maybe communicate better what those demands are with fellow coaches and players.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned back in those days?

A: I got in trouble one time in college as a player, and (Nebraska coach Bob Devaney) gave me a second chance. I don't want to get into the specifics, but I was suspended for one game. I could have been suspended for longer, the whole season, but he let me come back. He told me he would give me another chance, so "Don't blow it!" I came back and played my senior year and had an outstanding senior year. Since then, I've always believed in second chances. Been there, done that, seen it. Some players get in trouble, and I'm always understanding. I know I wouldn't be coaching today if he hadn't given me a second chance. I wouldn't have finished my college career.

SUPER BOWL II

Jan. 14, 1968

Miami

Packers 33, Raiders 14

MVP: Bart Starr, Packers quarterback (13-of-24 for 202 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown).

IN THE NEWS: Jan. 23: North Korea seizes the U.S. Navy ship Pueblo and holds the 83 people on board as spies. January-February: The Tet offensive, considered the turning point in the Vietnam War, is conducted. March 16: The My Lai massacre. April 4: Martin Luther King Jr. is shot to death in Memphis, Tenn. June 5: Robert Kennedy is shot at a Los Angeles hotel after winning the California Democratic presidential primary; he dies a day later.

BEST PICTURE OSCAR: In the Heat of the Night

MUSIC OF THE MOMENT: The Graduate soundtrack/Simon & Garfunkel

EVERYBODY'S WATCHING: Mission: Impossible

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