The Kiffin years helped set tone at NC State
Posted October 1, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Because of recent events in college football, and the NFL, I am flashing back -- to the Kiffin years.
The Monte Kiffin era at NC State was brief and produced a very pedestrian 16-17 record. But it also gave us some memorable moments-and personalities.
Long before Pete Carroll won big at Southern Cal and became the wildly successful head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, he was Kiffin’s defensive coordinator in West Raleigh. Today we see him on television all the time in the NFL, but in the early 1980’s, he was just “Pete.”
Even in his days at NC State, he displayed a passion for recruiting. I vividly remember a conversation with Carroll in the hallway of the Weisiger Brown Building (NCSU’s former football office). He expressed concern (it was probably more like outrage) about a certain rival’s recruitment of under-qualified junior college players in California.
“Somebody ought to look into it,” he suggested. Carroll hails from San Francisco, and as he would later demonstrate at Southern Cal, he knows a little something about recruiting on the west coast.
Monte Kiffin twice started seasons at NC State 4-1, only to suffer heavy losses in October and November. However, he did his best to pump up interest in the program. Kiffin once made a grand entrance at a pep rally, dressed up as the Lone Ranger - even riding a horse. He often talked about jumping out of an airplane, though I can’t confirm that he actually ever did this. Kiffin did show up at the front door of high school star Joe McIntosh, around Christmas, dressed up as Santa Claus. The ploy worked, as McIntosh signed with the Wolfpack and later became one of the leading rushers in NC State history.
I’ve seen some writers describe the latter-day version of Monte Kiffin, the NFL defensive coordinator, as somewhat “crusty.” He was never that way at NC State. Probably the only cross words he ever directed toward the sports staff at WRAL came once when we scheduled him to do a live interview and he had to wait a few minutes. He wanted to know, “What’s the big deal about doing this live?”
He wanted to talk on tape and get out of there, but once the red light came on for our live shot, he was Monte Kiffin - upbeat, even effervescent.
Many NC State fans really looked forward to Kiffin’s annual pre-season address to the Raleigh Sports Club. The coach used his flamboyance, and sense of humor to effect - sometimes in a humbly self-deprecating way.
During his 1982 talk, Kiffin shared the story of a card he’d received the previous December from Athletic Director Willis Casey. Kiffin had committed the contents of the card to memory: “Merry Christmas from the Peach Bowl. Wish you were here. Willis.”
The story received a lot of laughs from the audience.
We in the media probably should have paid more attention to that Willis Casey Christmas card. When Kiffin’s 1982 team again missed on a bowl bid, the coach and NC State parted. Kiffin held a press conference to announce his departure. He read a prepared statement and said, ‘resigning was my decision.’
What I really remember is Monte’s wife Robin Kiffin taking the hand of her young son and waving it. “Tell them bye-bye,” she said. “Tell them bye-bye.”
The young son of course was Lane Kiffin, and as an adult coach, he has become pretty well-versed in this scene. He was on the waving end of the good-bye at Tennessee, and he has twice been on the receiving end of the good-bye, first with the Oakland Raiders, and most recently with Southern Cal this past weekend.
Lane Kiffin found his big break in coaching in 2001. He was hired as the tight ends coach at Southern Cal, by of course Pete Carroll.
Carroll addressed the USC firing at his Seattle press conference Monday, saying, “This is really tough. I’ve known Lane since he was a little kid.”
So, even though NC State fans want more wins - and it does look like Dave Doeren may be able to do just that - those who wear red and white can take pride in the accomplishments of players and coaches connected to the program.
NC State is the only school which currently counts three alumni among the starting quarterbacks of the NFL (Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon). And former coaches are also making their mark: Monte Kiffin is the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys; Pete Carroll is the head coach for the Seattle Seahawks; Noel Mazzone is the offensive coordinator at UCLA; Marc Trestman is the head coach for the Chicago Bears.
And while Lane Kiffin has become a lightning rod for controversy, it wouldn’t be surprising to him to see him return to the NFL the next time Pete Carrroll needs an offensive coach.