Family time never a myth in Kiffin household
Monte Kiffin has long been one of the top coaches in the NFL. This fall will mark his 25th season in the NFL, his 12th as defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He is also, by all accounts, a first-rate dad -- who not just found time but made time whenever he could for all three of his children, among them son Lane, now the 32-year-old head coach of the Oakland Raiders
Father's Day offers occasion to pause in tribute to the good guys. All the dads who, like Monte Kiffin, manage not just to work hard but to excel -- while at the same time being the sort of father who can inspire a son, and the young people around the boy, by being an example, by making abundantly plain the value of dedication, drive, commitment, honesty and loyalty. And family.
Not just by talking about it. By showing it.
At work. And at home.
"Monte, as much as anybody I've been around, tried to create quality time," USC coach Pete Carroll, a longtime friend, said. "Time is limited. So you make a special effort. You focus as much as you can. You try to maximize the space you get. You make sure you're there.
"Kif is very much like that -- a hard-working guy, as hard and diligent as anybody I've ever been around. He works circles around hard-working people. At the same time, he's a loving and caring person. It is very obvious that's who Kif is. He is dedicated and driven but when you were with him you were with him all the way.
"He is one of my dearest friends in the world. He has always been the most loyal, faithful friend and he is always there for you. And if that's the kind of passion he brings to the friendship you can imagine what he brings to the kids."
Lane Kiffin respects, admires and trusts his father. He is his own man, he makes clear. But there is much about the father the son has seen -- seen first-hand -- is worth emulating as he sets off on his own NFL coaching path.
Lane Kiffin said, "I think a lot of it is that I'm not trying to be exactly just like him.
"But being exposed to what he does and how he does it -- seeing how you can outwork people. When you're a player, maybe you can only go so far because some guy can, say, run faster. Coaching has nothing to do with ability. It's the way people work. When you work hard and work smart, you can pass people up."
Lane also said of Monte, "He did a great job of being able to separate work and family. I would see him on the practice field, or at training camp -- the energy, getting on guys. He wasn't that way at home.
"He did a good job of separating. He would come home and not act differently if [the team] had just lost. He didn't bring bad things from work home. He would get to know us, talk to us. And as a dad, he wasn't trying to be our coach.
"It's something I've taken from him and I'm trying to do as my own kids," two young daughters, "get older. You're not their coach. You're their parent. You don't need to come home and be on them the way you might be with players. These are your kids."
For his part, Monte Kiffin said of his son, first and foremost, "Let's give his mother some credit." In raising Lane, along with brother Chris and sister Heidi, Robin Kiffin "was pretty firm with her rules," Monte Kiffin said.
Monte Kiffin always, through all the hours that being a football coach demands, carved out time whenever possible for family. He said, for instance, "I would say any chance you have to be with your son, it's just so important.
"Even at a young age, they remember a lot. They really do. I just think the father-son relationship needs to be strong even though you may not feel it when your children are younger. Anything you're feeling, let that child know that. Believe it or not, it comes back in their 20s or 30s.
"Maybe they didn't agree with you at 14 or 15. But, gosh, if you give them the love and tell them certain things, they'll come around. Those certain things are what you do to try to raise your children the right way."
There seems little doubt that Lane loved growing up Lane. Mostly, he grew up in Minnesota, in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, during the years Monte was an assistant with the Vikings.
And Lane's pals loved growing up in the Kiffin household, too.
The door was always open. The refrigerator was always full.
It was that way on purpose.
"I just love kids," Monte Kiffin said. "I would have had three more."
Robin Kiffin recently told ESPN The Magazine, "In whatever city we've been in, I've gone to Bible-study classes regularly. Plus, we were the house where all the neighborhood kids played, and I was always cooking for everybody."
"Our doors were unlocked," Lane Kiffin said. "We would come home from some event and there would be kids at our house. They'd be in the basement. They'd be watching video games. It was the hangout."
"Even when Lane wasn't there, I would go over there and hang out. I knew I could always go there," said one of Lane's longtime friends,Trevor Wenberg, now a 31-year-old trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
"Monte and Robin were just almost second parents to me. They never locked the doors. I'd be there sometimes by myself and they'd walk in and say, 'Hey, Trev, you need any food?' It's not that my parents were bad. It's just that it was always fun to go to the Kiffins and hang out.
"I can't even put into words," Wenberg said, "what the Kiffin family meant to me growing up."
Wenberg also said, "Every summer, Lane would have a birthday party or some sort of party and Monte would bring us to ... where the Vikings practiced and we'd get to play baseball in the practice dome.
"Whether it was water skiing or playing baseball at the park or playing football, Monte was always, 'Hey, Trev, come on over. Even my little brother, Dustin. It was, 'Hey, Dustin, come on over.'
"Monte's open to everyone. He's been a great friend to my father as well. I can't say enough good things about Monte. He was, he is, just the best ever."
Dave Watson, now an assistant on Carroll's staff at USC -- as Lane Kiffin was until he was hired away earlier this year by the Raiders -- actually moved in with the Kiffins for his junior and most of his senior year of high school.
"We love Dave Watson," Monte Kiffin said. "Anything we could do. Dave was just one of our kids. We said, 'This is the way the rules are going to be.' And Dave was really good about it."
"We respected him so much," Watson said of Monte Kiffin. "He made us love the game so much with his passion and being genuine and being true to the sport. He's the ideal football coach.
"But he's also a coach for life. We got to be exposed to all of that.
"What an honor."
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