The Wolfpacker

July-August 2020 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 47 of 51

48 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER T here was no one quite like Monte Kiffin. Hired 40 years ago as NC State's head football coach, the former Nebraska player and assistant was a protégé of Cornhuskers head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, and an assistant of former Wolfpack head coach Lou Holtz at Arkansas. He was a defensive genius who had a long career as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator in the National Football League. And as much as Wolfpack fans know about the antics of Holtz, basketball coach Jim Valvano and a cast of other coaching characters through the years, Kiffin is unique among them all, a three-year legacy that is still vivid in program annals some four decades later. What do you expect from someone who had to be talked out of wrestling an alligator one year at the Orange Bowl as an as- sistant coach? Who else would dress up in red-and-white clothes with a cowboy hat and mask to interrupt the NC State orchestra's spring concert by riding in on a white horse as they played "The William Tell Overture," just to promote his first spring football game? Kiffin did. Who else would strap on a parachute and jump out of a helicopter — from no more than five feet off the ground — the day before his first career game at his only head coaching job? Kiffin did. Who else, just before the first time he ever faced rival North Carolina, would get into the ring at Reynolds Coliseum with former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, who wore a Natural Light T-shirt that said "Smoke Carolina" on the back, for a one- round title bout as part of a students-only pep rally? Kiffin did. "I've got a little Lou Holtz, a little Bo Rein and a lot of Monte Kiffin in me," he said when introduced as Rein's successor by Chancellor Joab Thomas on Dec. 5, 1979. "I'm going to carry on the tradition here and build on it — make it bigger and bigger." Sadly, that was not to be. Even though he had an excellent young coaching staff, which included future Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, and despite his teams posting winning records in two of his three seasons, Kiffin never took the Wolfpack to a postseason bowl game and never had a winning record in ACC play. After three seasons, and a 16-17 overall record, Kiffin resigned un- der pressure from athletics boosters. Many still believe — and Kiffin is among them — the coach never really survived his unusual hiring. NC State had won the ACC championship in 1979 under the guid- ance of Holtz protégé Bo Rein, but did not play in a postseason bowl game. Rein, after four years at the helm as the nation's youngest head coach, jumped at an offer to become the head coach at LSU. At the same time, East Carolina's Pat Dye resigned after six suc- cessful seasons as head coach at ECU, which included the 1976 Southern Conference championship and an appearance in the 1978 Independence Bowl. Even Dye assumed he would become the head coach of the Wolf- pack. All the Georgia native had to do was win over a committee of seven prominent supporters of the program that was hiring a coach for athletics director Willis Casey, who was unavailable to make the decision because he was in a prolonged hospital stay. "Pat Dye was going to get the job, so I flew in there to meet the com- mittee as sort of an underdog candidate," Kiffin recalled. "Mr. Casey was in the hospital, and I never met him while I was there. I talked to the committee and got the feeling they weren't going to hire me. [Former All-ACC running back] Willie Burden drove me back to the airport and said, 'Tell Coach Holtz I said hello,' and I figured that was it." However, as the committee mulled over a bitter interview Dye gave in The News & Observer a few days after his resignation — in which Dye blasted the ECU Chancellor and athletics director for not support- ing his program, for shortchanging his assistant coaches and for not appreciating his team's success — it soured on his candidacy. Chancellor Thomas told the members to quickly turn their at- tention to the other main candidates, Kiffin and Navy head coach George Welsh. With a push from Holtz, who still had influence in Raleigh despite his abrupt departure following the 1975 season, Kif- fin was offered the job. "I was making a connection flight, and they pulled me off the PACK PAST Monte Kiffin Had A Memorable Three Years As The Wolfpack's Head Football Coach Kiffin was known for his promotional antics, including showing up on a white horse at an NC State orchestra concert to build interest for his first spring football game in Raleigh. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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