MOBILE, Ala. — Monte Kiffin knows what they say about his age, but the 72-year-old Cowboys defensive coordinator offers this anecdote to combat it.
Kiffin tells the story of a reporter asking him if he was too old to communicate with college kids when he became defensive coordinator at Tennessee four years ago, when his sone Lane took over the head coaching post.
"With all due respect," he told the reporter back then, "I'm 68 going on 40. Some people are 68 going on 78, don't worry about me communicating."
And there you have Monte Kiffin. Energetic and sometimes frenetic, but always ready to talk football. He is the epitome of a football guy.
"I'm fired up, you know," Kiffin says of his return to the NFL after spending the last four years in the college coaching ranks, first at Tennessee then at USC.
Spend about three minutes around him and that becomes perfectly clear.
As one Cowboys defensive coach said, "If Monte can't get you going, you don't have a pulse."
Kiffin says he wants a specific type of guy to coach the players on his defense.
"Coaches have to really be good teachers and you got to connect with the players," says Kiffin. "You gotta care about the players. Man, its got to be real. I don't like phonies. I don't like phony coaches. I don't like phony players."
Here's how Kiffin sums up what Cowboy fans can expect from his defense: "We kinda have a theory. If I just had to sum it up: play hard, play fast and play together," he says.
"You know it doesn't take talent to play hard. It's right here and right here," Kiffin says, pointing to his heart and then his head.
"You want to play hard, that ain't got nothing to do with talent," he says. "Play fast, however fast you are, play a little faster on Sundays. And then you gotta play together. If you don't fit this may not be the place for you. This is Cowboy ball. This is the way we're going to do it. Everybody will be given a chance. Sometimes you give a guy a second chance. But you gotta fit."
Now, does any of the rhetoric and enthusiasm mean he can implement his new 4-3 scheme and turn around the Cowboys defensive fortunes? I don't know.
But I know this: Some players will love the way Kiffin goes about his business and may even be inspired. And if they can figure out how to translate that into executing on the field, good things should be in store.