KNOXVILLE — Lane Kiffin said Monday afternoon that John Chavis has coordinated “some of the best college defenses I’ve ever seen.”
Sunday afternoon, Kiffin told Chavis and all of his assistants that their services were no longer needed at the University of Tennessee.
Saturday night, UT finished the season ranked fourth out of 119 major NCAA Division I programs in total defense.
For the past month, several of Chavis’s best players publicly pleaded that their new head coach would consider keeping the man called “Chief.”
One could combine those factors and assume Kiffin felt confident about his incoming staff.
“I do,” Kiffin said. “I definitely do.”
But Kiffin wouldn’t confirm the dozens of reports that his father, longtime Tampa Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, would leave the NFL for a similar position with the Volunteers.
“Obviously, as a father-son relationship, you have conversations about things,” Lane Kiffin said. “But there’s been nothing done or nothing agreed upon. They’re making a great run right now down there at Tampa, and they’re in the middle of a great season. When that thing winds down, maybe we’ll talk about it.
“Our staff will come together. It won’t real fast, but it will be a great staff, when it’s all said and done. Just bear with us. It will take a little bit of time.”
Lane Kiffin didn’t take the bait when asked what he would think of coaching alongside his father.
“I don’t want to speculate on that, because I don’t know that’s going to happen,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for some people around — people that I’m going to interview. Maybe he’ll be one of them.”
Monte Kiffin — the architect of the commonly copied “Tampa Two” defense — refused to deny the rumors after the Bucs’ Sunday win over the New Orleans Saints.
“It’s all just speculation,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “I can honestly tell you, it’s just speculation, just like me going to the Raiders (with Lane as Oakland’s head coach). It came up two years ago, and it came up last year. It’s just speculation.”
“I deal with all coaching issues at the end of the season, and I deal with them on a case-by-case basis.”
Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said Monday that he knew Monte Kiffin’s plans but he wanted the coach to break the news. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden wouldn’t confirm anything to the Tribune, either.
“It’s going to persist,” Gruden said. “I don’t have any update. Not really. A lot of our coaches are sought-after every year. Monte is sought-after every year. He should be.”
Monte Kiffin isn’t the only NFL name circulating as a possible UT assistant. Saints defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, the former head coach at Ole Miss, has also been mentioned by several inside the UT program as a potential Vols assistant.
Lane Kiffin and Orgeron coached together at Southern California.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal staff here,” Lane Kiffin said. “But I’m not talking about any names ... due to respect of the contracts those guys may be under.
“Bear with me for a bit, guys. It’s important that we do it right, not fast.”
As expected, he also released UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson.
For now, at least, Kiffin retained the Vols’ other four offensive assistants — line coach Greg Adkins, running backs coach Stan Drayton, wide receivers coach Latrell Scott and tight ends coach Jason Michael — because he “didn’t have any guys lined up in those spots.
“This will sort of be an interview for those guys ... and they will all have great opportunities to keep their jobs.”
UT tight end Luke Stocker said he hoped Michael would be retained.
“But this is also a business, and Coach Kiffin will obviously want to work with the guys he’s most comfortable with,” Stocker added. “He’s our head coach now. He’s our leader, and we need to trust him and do what he says.”
Monte Kiffin reportedly earns $2 million per season. That would be the highest rate of any NFL coordinator and about $100,000 more than the sum of all the UT assistants’ salaries this season.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said he and Lane Kiffin were “on the same page” with assistant coaching salaries, but he wouldn’t get into specifics.
“I’ll just say that we both want Tennessee to have a staff where people all over the country look at it and think, ‘Oh, my gosh, how did they do that?’” Hamilton said.