Monte Kiffin was there at the beginning of his college playing career.
The Tennessee defensive coordinator was around to lend a hand when his coaching career started, and the coaching legend has continued to be a resource for Frank Solich since he took over at Ohio.
Kiffin has always been willing to help Solich since the two met at Nebraska more than 40 years ago, the former a two-way tackle at the end of his career and the latter a fullback just getting one started. But the Bobcats coach will surely be on his own trying to outsmart the master and the Vols (1-2) on Saturday (TV: PPV, 7 p.m.) at Neyland Stadium.
“Monte was such an easy guy to stay in touch with,” Solich said. “He was very open. I visited him when he was the defensive coordinator at Tampa Bay, their staff was great, allowed me to come in and spend a great deal of time with those guys, I sat in meetings with those guys.
“It all stems from having known Monte as well as I do, and obviously him being very open to helping us. … He’s been a tremendous help to our program.”
Kiffin might be an even bigger problem for it this week when he rolls out one of the nation’s best defenses against his old friend.
The Vols did everything but shut down Florida’s explosive offense last Saturday, and they certainly opened up some eyes by harassing quarterback Tim Tebow, forcing turnovers and keeping the Gators from hitting many of their trademark big plays. That might have been a breakout surprise nationally, but UT’s attention to detail certainly didn’t catch anybody off guard at Ohio.
“He’s always been a great coach, a bright coach, and he knows how to handle and motivate players,” Solich said. “Along with that, he has a tremendous work ethic along with being great (schematically), and so what you have is a guy that has all the bases covered.
“When his defenses line up, you see very few breakdowns because they know exactly what they’re doing and what they should be doing, and they’re going to be doing it Monte Kiffin’s way. That has proven out over the years to be a great way to play great defense and win football games.”
Some offensive troubles have kept Kiffin from winning more than one so far with the Vols, though the defense has certainly done more than its share.
All-American safety Eric Berry was a force from sideline to sideline against the Gators and finally came up with his first interception of the season. Janzen Jackson was trusted in his first road game to keep the football in front of him, and the freshman safety responded with the best game of his young career.
The defensive line continued to apply pressure without many blitzes backing them up, and the linebackers mostly were solid in their reads against an often confusing offense.
The assignments should be much easier for all of them Saturday against the Bobcats — though on offense the Vols will have to face a unit that’s also been under Kiffin influence before.
“While I was in high school coaching I spent a great deal of time with the Nebraska staff and staying in touch with those guys,” Solich said. “And we’ve called on Monte several times.
“We’ve had him in here to help us with our defensive thinking, I know (defensive coordinator) Jimmy Burrow has stayed in touch with Monte every year since we’ve been together here at Ohio.”
The Vols and Kiffin will be in close contact with the Bobcats again soon.
But this time it doesn’t figure to be so friendly.