Monte Kiffin returns to the NFL with Cowboys

When former USC assistant head coach Monte Kiffin announced on Nov. 29 that he was resigning from his post to pursue NFL coaching opportunities, many questioned whether the 72-year-old would garner much attention after a disappointing stint at USC.

Yet Kiffin’s failure to meet expectations at USC did not dissuade the Dallas Cowboys from hiring the longtime NFL coach as the team’s new defensive coordinator on Jan. 11 — three days after the Cowboys controversially fired Rob Ryan, whose injury-depleted defense ranked 19 in the NFL in total yards allowed in 2012.

Kiffin earned his reputation as a defensive guru during his 13-year tenure as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator, during which he became known as the architect of the famed “Tampa 2” defensive scheme that many teams still use today. In addition to winning the Super Bowl in 2002, the Buccaneers finished in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense in 11 of Kiffin’s 13 years.

Unfortunately for Kiffin, USC players failed to adapt to the Tampa 2, which stresses speed instead of size. In the three years prior to Kiffin’s arrival, USC defenses surrendered an average of 278.5 total yards and 14.9 points per game. Under Kiffin’s watch from 2010-12, however, USC defenses surrendered an average of 390 total yards and 24.9 points per game.

The undoubted nadir of the 2012 season occurred during a two-game stretch against Arizona and Oregon in which USC gave up a combined 1,318 yards and 101 points to the two high-powered spread offenses. Following those defensive meltdowns, an offseason shakeup on the defensive coaching staff seemed inevitable, with Kiffin representing the most likely candidate to depart given his age and reluctance to force his son, USC coach Lane Kiffin, into the unenviable position of firing or demoting his father.

With National Signing Day for high school recruits fast approaching, Lane Kiffin continues to seek an outside hire with a demonstrated knack for stopping spread offenses to replace his father. As several high-profile recruits make official visits this weekend, there is added urgency for the Trojans to announce a new defensive coordinator. Many defensive recruits are reportedly hesitant to commit to USC in blind faith before having a chance to see how they will fit into the team’s new defensive philosophies and schemes.