IRVING, Texas -- Monte Kiffin walked off the practice field with a sunburn and a smile Friday afternoon.
Kiffin, the 74-year-old man demoted from defensive coordinator and given the mysterious title of assistant head coach/defense this offseason, wanted to make it clear that he’s not moping around Valley Ranch.
“I’m really fired up,” Kiffin said after the Dallas Cowboys' first day of rookie minicamp. “I’m not down one bit. I’m really not. I can’t coach that way. I wouldn’t stay here. If I didn’t feel right, I knew I wasn’t going to contribute and it wasn’t going to be a good situation, I promise you I would have moved on. I like it here.”
Kiffin, who is considered one of the great defensive coordinators in NFL history because of his work with the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, obviously didn’t like the results from his first season in Dallas.
The Cowboys ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense. Injuries were clearly a big part of the problem, but the Dallas brass determined that the Cowboys would be better off with longtime Kiffin lieutenant Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator, demoting Kiffin as delicately as possible.
Now, Kiffin’s role is essentially to do whatever he can to help Marinelli dramatically improve the Dallas defense.
“He’ll lean on me, but I know what my place is and that type of deal,” Kiffin said. “I just come to work every day and it’s a good situation. I’ll just put it that way. I’ll be fired up. I’ve got to be fired up when I coach now. I can coach some ball now.”
Kiffin will be in the coaches’ box during games, serving as the eyes for Marinelli, who will call the defense from the sideline.
Marinelli insisted that Kiffin also would have a significant role in creating the game plan each week. Kiffin said he’ll watch as much film as he ever has, continuing a work ethic Marinelli said demands respect.
"Shoot, are you kidding me? I just love watching tape," Kiffin said, laughing when asked whether he'd work fewer hours this season. "I really do, man."
It might be difficult for Kiffin to work under another defensive coordinator. That’s not the case now because of his relationship with Marinelli, who appreciates his former boss putting his pride aside.
“He’s all about winning,” said Marinelli, who worked under Kiffin as an assistant for a decade. “Of all the things he’s accomplished in his career, which is a lot, this might be the best thing he’s done. All the wins, the Super Bowls, all those things ... . Every guy hits a bump in his life. Instead of going in the tank, man up. That’s exactly what he’s done.”