The call came at 8:32 Tuesday night, and the message was simple: Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin was going to Southern California.
In the time it took to make a phone call, the Vols Nation was flipped completely upside down. Kiffin was heading west, and he was taking recruiting ace Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin with him. The chaos reached from the top of the UT athletic department -- you think athletic director Mike Hamilton is having a tough time chowing down his Cheerios this morning? -- to every message board that even ponders college football.
The questions were endless.
How did this happen? What's next in Knoxville? What about the recruits? Why did the Trojans want a loudmouth who has a career 12-21 record in two-plus years as a head coach? Will the NCAA set up a satellite office in Los Angeles by Valentine's Day? How big is Urban Meyer's smirk this morning? How about Phillip Fulmer's?
Kiffin's exodus leaves the Vols scrambling, Hamilton facing his second coaching search in 14 months and an entire fan base wondering which emotion was the strongest. The anger? The confusion? The embarrassment? The fear?
Try this one, UT fans -- relief. That's right, be glad Lane Kiffin and his circus act have packed their bags and hit the road. Sooner or later, Kiffin was going to drive the program into the ground, be it NCAA purgatory or a tired run of high-profile recruits who didn't deliver on the field.
Yes, the timing is borderline criminal -- roughly three weeks from national signing day -- and Kiffin and Co. had assembled a glorious recruiting class that will be very difficult to keep together regardless of who the next coach is or how soon he will be hired.
Yes, the feeling of betrayal -- especially for those who had a window seat on the Lane Train and defended his childish ways through thick and thin -- is burning and will likely linger for years.
Yes, Vols fans, Kiffin was exciting, he talked a big game and he was flush in street cred, but in the end he was exactly what Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said he was -- a liar.
As for the next Vols coach, there will certainly be a slew of big names tossed about. This is a monster job after all, regardless of the shambles left in Kiffin's wake. No stone should be unturned; no name should be considered too big.
Start with Troy Calhoun, the Air Force coach who finished a close second to Kiffin last go-round. Make Bill Cowher say no and force Jon Gruden to turn his cell phone off.
But this is not about name or glitz or glamour or about who can bring the best staff. Not anymore. This is about finding the right guy to coach the Tennessee Vols, someone who will respect the demands and the tradition and will view the job as an honor -- not a step to the next one or a springboard to see his name on the ESPN scroll.
It now falls to you, Mike Hamilton. Again. The fact that Kiffin's buyout was a measly $800,000 was a mistake, but embrace this chance. You're getting a free pass on this one, because in truth, Lane is leaving before he tears you and your program completely down.
Consider this a mulligan, Mike. But the next one better be a home run -- or it likely will be your last one in Knoxville.