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I thought three things last night after the breaking of the most jaw-dropping SEC football story since … well, since Urban Meyer resigned, I guess. But this one’s going to stick. So, three things:

1. I thought about the story we’d heard, that Kiffin had put up photos and videos of USC players in the Vol administration building, which I woke up this morning to find Clay Travis had memorably recaptured for us. The reasoning supposedly went: Today’s top recruits don’t care about the school they’re playing for; all they care about is finding a program that can get them to the NFL.

Turning one of the most storied college football programs in the country into a glorified NFL minor-league team? Disgusting. But hey, I thought, I guess Kiffykins is entitled to do what he wants to to get ahead, and Lord knows not many of the Tennessee fans I read or spoke to seemed all that bothered.

Today, of course, the message those photos sent to recruits goes way beyond being a recruiting tool. It’s a lot clearer: You’re not playing for this school. You’re playing for us. It wasn’t an honor to be playing for Tennessee; it was an honor to be playing for Lane Kiffin. The Vol coaches, apparently, were a bigger deal than the school that employed them.

Kiffin’s leaving was a shock. But it shouldn’t have been as big a shock as it was.

And this is where I have to point out, as an aside, that while the above was going on so was this. We are very, very lucky, Auburn fans.

2. I thought about one of my favorite episodes of The Office, where Dunder Mifflin has tabbed hotshot branch manager Josh to oversee the merger of the Scranton and Stamford branches, at the expense of our bumbling hero, Michael Scott. But just as the merger is on the verge of going public, Josh has news for the company: he’s leveraged his new position at Dunder Mifflin into an even better offer from a rival business, and he’s taking that offer instead. Dunder Mifflin is scuh-rewed.

“Say what you will about Michael Scott,” Jim Halpert tells the camera, “but he would never do that.”

Say what you will about Charlie Strong’s lack of head coaching experience. Say what you will about Brian Kelly’s lack of Southern ties. Say what you will about Mike Leach’s pirate obsession, or Chris Petersen’s wacko offense, or the faults of any of a dozen different coaches Tennessee could have hired. Say what you will about Gene Chizik, his 5-19 record at Iowa St.

But none of them–not one–would ever do that.

3. I thought that I didn’t want it to be like this.

Yes, I wanted the Kiffin hire to backfire on the Vols, to backfire badly. I wanted that badly, actually. Some of that was the nagging air that surrounded Kiffin that he felt that he was just too good for his job: too good to have to worry about silly things like NCAA regulations, too good to have to accept a top-100 quarterback who didn’t perfectly fit his pocket-passer prototype, too good to have to wait and earn the right to talk smack to the likes of Meyer and Saban. But mostly it was just the way Kiffin was hailed from so many corners as a godsend for Tennessee, a visionary outside-the-box hire who would stand up to the bully Meyer and get the Vols’ swagger back. Meanwhile, Gene Chizik was, of course, the worst hire ever. Nevermind that both Kiffin and Chizik had virtually identical coaching resumes; Worst. Hire. Ever.

And though I didn’t exactly greet Chizik with open arms either, when he hired the staff he did and recruited the way he did last spring, I thought things would even out a bit. Nope. When Chizik started 5-0 by beating Tennessee in Knoxville while Kiffin lost at home to UCLA and quit in Gainesville, I figured we’d be due for some “Hey, who’s really the better coach here?” dissent. There were some ripples here and there, but not much. And then the Iron Bowl happened, which was a better performance against a better team than the Vols’ outing in the Swamp ever was … and for which the media gave Chizik a smattering of polite applause, a tenth of the standing ovation Kiffin received for his “moral victory.”

Obviously, I’m still a little peeved. And so I wanted Kiffin to lose 6 or 7 games a year for five years, a kind of poor man’s Spurrier-in-Carolina, always talking the big game but never winning it. That’s the kind of backfire I wanted.

But this? No. There’s less than three weeks ’til Signing Day. There’s the national embarrassment. There’s the agonizing process of finding a new coach. There’s–more than anything, I’m guessing–having to watch something you love and treasure swindled and exploited for a charlatan’s personal gain. If this had happened to Auburn, I’d be in the backyard right now taking apart various personal possessions with an ax.

So to all the Tennessee fans I know and even the ones I don’t, to Holly and Joel and Hooper and Ghost and Lawvol–man, I’m sorry. No college football fan should have to deal with something like this. Not even ‘Bama fans.

(Well … maybe.)

Photo via Auburntron.

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