LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01: Assistant head coach Monte Kiffin on the sidelines during the USC Trojans spring game on May 1, 2010 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Monte Kiffin is revered in the Tampa Bay area, and rightly so. The defensive mastermind helped create the vaunted Tampa 2 defense and helped turn the Buccaneers from a perennial loser into a perennial winner. Even when Tony Dungy left, Kiffin's defenses continued to produce year in, year out - and those defenses collapsed the minute he left the Bucs to join his son in the college ranks. But over the past few weeks we've seen some evidence that Monte Kiffin messed up in one of the most important moments of his career: the 1999 NFC Championship.
The Bucs made it back to that game for the first time since 1979, and they came up against the Greatest Show on Turf. The prolific St. Louis Rams had destroyed every defense it had faced during the regular season, but somehow the Bucs managed to hold them up. The Bucs managed to hold the Rams to just 5 points going into the fourth quarter - and 2 of those came on a safety after a bad Tony Mayberry snap. The defense was completely suffocating the Rams, but they finally gave up a touchdown with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter. The offense couldn't make up the resulting five-point deficit, and the Bucs went on to lose the game.
On that touchdown play, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent a blitz - one of the few times they did so during the game. The Rams read the blitz, and Warner threw a perfect deep ball to Ricky Proehl in the endzone. According to Warren Sapp, the Bucs could have won that game had Monte Kiffin not blitzed there. And, he might well be right, but that sounds a lot like some hindsight analysis.
Not so, says Steve White. The former Bucs defensive end played in that game, and talked about it with Old School of What The Buc, in one of his many appearances on that show. Definitely an interview worth listening to, but he gives us some great insight on that game as well. Apparently, the Bucs had a rule in place for that game: if the Rams start motioning people across the formation, or they take a timeout - the defense has to check to Tampa 2. That rule was in place to prevent the Rams from confusing the defense and exploiting holes on non-standard defensive calls. The Tampa 2 defense was a static defense, and while it certainly wasn't perfect, there was no way you could really fool it: everyone just dropped to a landmark and played football.
That rule was in place for the entire game, and had worked to perfection throughout the game. The Rams had scored 33 points per game throughout the regular season, and produced more yards than anyone in the NFL, yet they had just five points going into that play. The Bucs had lined up in a blitz formation, and the Rams had called a timeout. The rule the Bucs had in place, the rule Monte Kiffin himself had put in place, said that the team had to check to Tampa 2. Instead, Monte Kiffin called the blitz anyway - and the result was a touchdown.
Monte Kiffin arguably cost the Bucs a Super Bowl berth in that play, although the Bucs' offense had a lot more to do with missing out on that game, producing a net of 4 points in that game. Monte Kiffin more than made up for that in 2002, when he produced one of the greatest defenses the NFL had ever seen and helped the Bucs win their first (and only) Super Bowl trophy. But on that day in 2000, he messed up.