KNOXVILLE -- Lane Kiffin packed enough drama in 14 months to last the University of Tennessee football program at least a full decade.
And the finale topped it all.
One hour after Kiffin shocked his team with the news, the coach stood in a room full of reporters at the UT football complex and offered a brief statement without taking questions.
As Kiffin spoke, a few hundred students stood outside in freezing temperatures and chanted obscenities at him.
"Go Home, You Traitor -- 'It's Time,'" one sign stated, referencing one of the most popular slogans associated with the coach's brief stay in Knoxville.
A group of students sneaked into the building, and one yelled, "You're scared of Meyer, you punk!" referencing Kiffin's continual verbal battle with Florida coach Urban Meyer.
Several dozen UT players stood next to the students outside the complex, and at least a few of them joined in the jeers. Most of the Volunteers struggled to open their mouths, though.
"I don't really know what to say right now other than we'll get through this. I know it in my heart," defensive end Gerald Williams said. "We were Tennessee before Coach Kiffin got here, and we'll be Tennessee when he leaves."
Fellow defensive end Chris Walker took the high road, thanking Kiffin and his staff for "everything they've done for us in the little bit of time they were here."
Walker and several Vols pledged to stand behind Kippy Brown, who started his third stint with the program last month as an assistant but is now the interim head coach.
"I'm not mad at him," Walker said of Kiffin. "It's a position he couldn't turn down. It's his dream job. You talk about loyalty ... but he didn't know this was going to come up. I'm happy for him and still have the utmost respect for him.
"I'm happy for Coach Kiffin, but we'll ride with Coach Kippy now. This is just going to be about us getting back to work, going to class tomorrow and being Tennessee.
Linebacker LaMarcus Thompson confirmed reports that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron planned to join Lane in Los Angeles.
"I don't know about the rest, though," Thompson said. "I don't know what to think about much of anything right now, to be honest with you. This is just ... wow ... you just didn't see this coming."
Asked what he knew about Brown, Thompson said, "That he's a Tennessee guy like us, and he wants to be here."
"It's up to us, the seniors and other veterans on this team, to help (Brown) keep this thing together for a while," Thompson said. "We need to be out there making sure nobody does anything stupid or gets in trouble or anything like that.
"We're hurt, but we've got to keep our heads. We've got to remember that we have each other. The guys in that locker room, that sometimes feels like all we have -- each other -- but that's enough. We're going to be all right."
Defensive end Ben Martin, who will also be a senior next season, said he stood up and left the room before Kiffin finished his farewell speech.
Asked if any other players left the room, Martin said, "I don't know. I wasn't there anymore."
"He opened it up to questions, but I just couldn't sit through it," Martin said. "I had to walk out of the meeting. I just couldn't really deal with it anymore. I'm just so hurt by the fact that he's leaving us after we done bought in and did everything he asked us to do.
"It just hurts right now. It hurts a lot."
Martin added that he "sort of" understood why Kiffin made his decision.
"To a certain extent, you feel (upset), but I guess there's just certain things you don't understand," Martin said. "He told us it was his dream job, and he's from out there, and all this other stuff. Right now, I'm hurt by it, but I just wish him the best and wish his team the best."
UT's search for a third coach in three years started Tuesday night, but Walker said the players and any remaining assistants will be the ones to "hold this thing together" before men's athletic director Mike Hamilton -- who was flying from Denver to Knoxville during Kiffin's news conference -- finds his man.
"We've just got to let them know that we're going to be here for them," Walker said. "The seniors, we just had a meeting, and we've just got to keep the guys together. It's going to be a really tough time for us -- probably make-or-break time for us -- but we've just got to keep them team together and tell them we're going to play together.
"We've always been together. Whatever coach has been here, we've always played hard for him, so it's time for us to stand up."
Added Thompson: "Third time in three years, man. Unbelievable. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that it's something we can't control. We wish we could, obviously, but we can't. It's just the business, I guess."
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