Defensive coordinator Kiffin to stay with Bucs in '06

He went back and forth and, after several days of deliberation, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin decided he will be back with the Bucs in 2006.

Kiffin, 65, was sought by St. Louis officials earlier this week to interview for the Rams' head coach vacancy. But on Wednesday morning, when he was to fly to St. Louis, Kiffin changed his mind and told the Rams he was staying put. He then had second thoughts and put himself back in the running but then decided Friday he wouldn't pursue the Rams job.

"After further discussions today with [general manager] Bruce Allen and coach [Jon] Gruden, I have decided to stay with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," Kiffin said in a Friday evening statement released by the team. "As I stated on Thursday, there is no doubt that this is a great place to coach. I like the makeup of our team and I'm looking forward to working with the returning players on defense. I appreciate the interest that the St. Louis Rams have expressed in me and really think very highly of their organization, starting with [team president] John Shaw."

The decision not to pursue the St. Louis job likely means Kiffin will never again seek an NFL head coach position.

ESPN.com reported in November that Kiffin had signed a two-year contract extension through the 2007 season, at about $1.7 million annually, to remain with the Bucs. The deal allowed to retain his status Kiffin one of the NFL's highest-paid assistant coaches.

But even with the new extension, the Bucs could not have blocked Kiffin from meeting with Rams officials had he so desired.

Kiffin has put together one of the most remarkable streaks in recent league history. In his first season in Tampa Bay, 1996, the Bucs' defense statistically ranked 11th in the league. Since then, the defense has never ranked lower than No. 9. Under Kiffin, the Tampa Bay defense has ranked in the top five seven times and in the top three on five occasions.

The Bucs' defense was No. 1 in the league for the 2005 season.

Retaining the universally respected Kiffin is critical for the Bucs, given the situation with their coaching staff. Tampa Bay has already lost secondary coach Mike Tomlin, who was introduced Tuesday as the Minnesota Vikings' new defensive coordinator, and assistant defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who left to become the defensive coordinator at Kansas State.

The contracts of several other assistants, notably defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, have expired. Marinelli interviewed this week for the Detroit Lions' head coach job.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.